PROVIDENCE — As the race for governor enters its final month, Democratic Governor Daniel J. McKee leads Republican Ashley Kalus, 46 percent to 36 percent, in a new Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll.
None of the three independent candidates on the ballot — Elijah Gizzarelli, Zachary Hurwitz, and Paul Rianna — top 1.5 percent, and less than 14 percent of respondents remain undecided, the poll found. The survey of 800 likely general election voters, released Tuesday, was conducted Oct. 1 to Oct. 4 by Suffolk University for the Boston Globe. The cellphone/landline poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The poll sets the stage for a series of debates between McKee, the former lieutenant governor who became governor in March 2021 when Gina M. Raimondo was named US commerce secretary, and Kalus, a healthcare executive who registered to vote in Rhode Island last year and argues that the state needs an outsider.
“McKee has widespread support across every age category, which is impressive, and he manages to lead by 10 points even though he is losing among independents by a 2-to-1 margin,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.
McKee and Kalus each enjoys 85 percent support among members of their own party, while Kalus has 50 percent support among independents compared to McKee’s 25 percent, the poll found.
“The debates will be extremely important because they will focus the candidates on winning independents,” Paleologos said, noting that 18 percent of independent voters remain undecided. “Playing to either base has marginal impact, so these candidates will be playing to what independents want.”
Independent and unaffiliated voters told the pollsters that the most important issues in the governor’s race include cost of living (54 percent), education (10 percent), and abortion rights (9 percent).
“McKee has to have an answer for the economy – he has to show how he is addressing it in a way that shows leadership,” Paleologos said. “He can’t ignore it because it’s more important to independents in the state than overall, and it’s pretty important in the state overall.”
McKee’s job performance, while “credible,” is not spectacular, Paleologos said. The poll found 46 percent of voters approve of the job he is doing as governor, while 38 disapprove.
“It’s clear he doesn’t have a job performance that shouts incumbent strength,” he said. “It’s as if respondents are giving us a shoulder shrug.”
McKee has more than double the support among women, thanks in large part to his support for abortion rights, Paleologos said. The poll found 55 percent of women back McKee compared to 26 percent for Kalus.
But Kalus leads among men, with 47 percent compared to McKee’s 38 percent, thanks in large part to her emphasis on the cost of living and the economy, Paleologos said.
McKee has more than double the support in the 1st Congressional District, 51 percent to 31 percent, while he is essentially even in the 2nd Congressional District, leading 42 percent to 41 percent.
Democratic US Representative David N. Cicilline represents the 1st Congressional District, which covers the eastern part of state and includes McKee’s hometown of Cumberland and his power base in the Blackstone Valley. Democratic US Representative James R. Langevin is vacating the 2nd Congressional District seat, setting up a close race between Republican Allan W. Fung and Democrat Seth Magaziner.
“What McKee needs to do is run up big margins in the 1st Congressional District, hold the gender advantage and talk about abortion rights, and not make any major gaffes,” Paleologos said.
While Kalus trails outside the poll’s margin of error, she remains “in striking distance,” he said. And she has spent more than $2.2 million on the race, including large amounts of her own money, according to the state Board of Elections.
“What Kalus needs to do is continue hammering those core economic issues and also improve among women,” Paleologos said. “She needs to run up a lead in the 2nd Congressional District and get what she can among people of color.”
The poll found that 63 percent of Black voters support McKee, compared to just 13 percent who support Kalus. Meanwhile, 45 percent of Hispanic votes support McKee, compared to 31 percent for Kalus. And McKee leads among white voters, with 47 percent compared to 38 percent for Kalus.
In September, McKee won the Democratic primary, edging former CVS executive Helena Buonanno Foulkes, who made a late surge in the race. McKee received 32.8 percent, topping Foulkes at 29.9 percent, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea at 26.2 percent, former secretary of state Matt Brown at 7.9 percent, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz at 3.1 percent.
“McKee has inherited the Democratic voters, who are rallying around him now as the Democratic nominee,” Paleologos said. “But they both have work to do to convince independents of their vision.”
McKee has been better at convincing Republicans to vote for him. The poll found 10 percent of Republicans plan to vote for McKee, while just 3 percent of Democrats plan to vote for Kalus.
Read more analysis of the latest poll data here.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.