Rhode Island State Survey, September 2001

Taubman Center for Public Policy Survey

Voters Worry about Terrorist Attacks; Are Less Confident in R.I. Economy

In the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, a survey of 413 Rhode Island voters conducted September 15-16 finds 77 percent of Rhode Island voters worry about terrorist attacks. Sixty-eight percent think President George W. Bush is doing a good job, up from 34 percent in June. The survey also finds sharply lower consumer confidence in the state economy and indications of a tight race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Seventy-seven percent of Rhode Island voters are very or somewhat worried about terrorist attacks in the United States, according to a new public opinion survey by researchers at Brown University. In addition, many state residents express concern about the future state economy.

The survey was conducted September 15-16, 2001 at Brown University by Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and the John Hazen White, Sr. Public Opinion Laboratory. It is based on a statewide random sample of 413 registered voters in Rhode Island. Overall, the poll had a margin of error of about plus or minus five percentage points.

Taken a few days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the survey revealed that 87 percent feel the United States should strengthen airport security, 79 percent believe we should put more money into intelligence-gathering, 77 percent think the U.S. should promote better international understanding, and 65 percent think we should alter U.S. foreign policy. When asked what type of terrorism most concerns them, 29 percent said germ warfare, 22 percent said nuclear weapon attacks, 14 percent named suicide bombers, and 4 percent cited poison gas attacks. But only 17 percent say they have altered their personal behavior in order to protect themselves from possible terrorism.

There has been a significant drop in confidence about the state economy. Our Index of Consumer Sentiment for Rhode Island this month has declined to 75.1, down from 86.5 in June, 2001, 97.9 in February, 2000 and 106.3 in January, 1999. This means consumer optimism has dropped by 12 percent over the last three months and 29 percent over the last two years. The index is modeled after five questions from a national index developed at the University of Michigan and is used to determine over time how optimistic people are. As an example of how consumer sentiment has declined, only 18 percent in our September survey felt the state would have good business conditions over the next twelve months, down from 38 percent who felt that way in June. There also has been a drop from 57 to 42 percent over the last three months in the number of people who believe now is a good time to buy major household items such as furniture, a refrigerator, stove, or television.

In the 2002 race for the Democratic nomination for governor, 15 percent of the 250 likely primary voters said they plan to vote for Myrth York (the party's nominee in 1994 and 1998), 14 percent indicate they will vote for Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, 11 percent claim they would vote for Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty, 4 percent name State Representative Antonio Pires, and 56 percent are undecided.

There has been a sharp increase in public support for President Bush. Sixty-eight percent believe he is doing a good or excellent job, 12 percent rate his performance only fair, and 5 percent indicate his performance has been poor. In June, 34 percent rated his job performance as good or excellent.

Fifty percent give Governor Lincoln Almond excellent or good ratings for how he is handling his job, compared to 23 percent who say it is only fair, 11 percent who believe it is poor, and 16 percent who are uncertain. In June, 45 percent gave Almond excellent or good marks.

Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty is rated excellent or good by 46 percent of voters (up from 34 percent last June). Fifty-five percent give excellent or good marks to Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (up from 48 percent). Secretary of State Ed Inman is rated favorably by 36 percent of voters (up from 17 percent), and Treasurer Paul Tavares has a 41 percent job approval rating (up from 31 percent).

In regard to federal officials, 62 percent say the job performance of Senator Lincoln Chafee has been excellent or good (up from 59 percent). Sixty-two percent give excellent or good marks to Senator Jack Reed (up from 60 percent). Fifty-four percent believe Congressman James Langevin is doing an excellent or good job (up from 44 percent). Forty-two percent believe Congressman Kennedy is doing an excellent or good job (down from 45 percent in June, 49 percent in February, 2001, and 63 percent in February, 2000).

Despite being under federal indictment for public corruption, 61 percent believe Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci is doing a good or excellent job. This number is down slightly from the 64 percent who rated his job performance as good or excellent in June.

Sixty-three percent feel the state is headed in the right direction, while only 17 percent believe it is off on the wrong track. Last June, 58 percent claimed Rhode Island was moving in the right direction, and 28 percent felt it was on the wrong track.

When asked what was the most important problem facing the state of Rhode Island today, 12 percent name unemployment and jobs, followed by 9 percent terrorism, 8 percent ethics and corruption, 8 percent economy, 7 percent education, 5 percent government performance, 4 percent business climate, 3 percent taxes, 2 percent violence, and 2 percent government budget (all others under 2 percent).

For more information, contact Darrell M. West at (401) 863-1163

Survey Questions and Responses

Do you plan to vote in next year's Democratic primary? 59% yes, 22% no, 19% don't know or no answer

(250 likely Democratic primary voters only) If the Democratic primary for governor were held today, would you vote for: 11% Charles Fogarty, 4% Antonio Pires, 14% Sheldon Whitehouse, 15% Myrth York, 56% don't know or no answer

We are interested in how people are getting along financially these days. Would you say that you (and your family living there) are: 35% better off, 24% worse off financially than you were a year ago, 41% don't know or no answer

Now looking ahead--do you think that a year from now you (and your family living there) will be: 24% better off financially, 12% worse off, 41% just about the same as now, 23% don't know or no answer

Now turning to business conditions in the state as a whole--do you think that during the next twelve months we'll have: 18% good times financially, 50% bad times, 32% don't know or no answer

Looking ahead, which would you say is more likely--that in the state as a whole: 27% we'll have continuous good times during the next five years or so, 40% that we will have periods of widespread unemployment or depression, 33% don't know or no answer

About the big things people buy for their homes--such as furniture, a refrigerator, stove, television, and things like that. Generally speaking, do you think now is a: 42% good, 26% bad time for people to buy major household items, 32% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job George W. Bush is doing as president? 27% excellent, 41% good, 12% only fair, 5% poor, 15% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Jack Reed is doing as U.S. Senator? 18% excellent, 44% good, 14% only fair, 2% poor, 22% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Lincoln Chafee is doing as U.S. Senator? 14% excellent, 48% good, 14% only fair, 3% poor, 21% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Patrick Kennedy is doing as U.S. Representative? 9% excellent, 33% good, 23% only fair, 15% poor, 20% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Jim Langevin is doing as U.S. Representative? 11% excellent, 43% good, 14% only fair, 2% poor, 30% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Lincoln Almond is doing as governor? 9% excellent, 41% good, 23% only fair, 11% poor, 16% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Charles Fogarty is doing as lieutenant governor? 8% excellent, 38% good, 14% only fair, 2% poor, 38% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Sheldon Whitehouse is doing as attorney general? 13% excellent, 42% good, 17% only fair, 3% poor, 25% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Ed Inman is doing as secretary of state? 4% excellent, 32% good, 12% only fair, 2% poor, 50% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Paul Tavares is doing as general treasurer? 4% excellent, 37% good, 14% only fair, 2% poor, 43% don't know or no answer

How would you rate the job Buddy Cianci is doing as mayor of Providence? 23% excellent, 38% good, 13% only fair, 9% poor, 17% don't know or no answer

Generally speaking, would you say things in Rhode Island are going in the right direction, or have they gotten off on the wrong track? 63% right direction, 17% wrong track, 20% don't know or no answer

As far as you are concerned, what is the most important problem facing the state of Rhode Island today? (open-ended responses classified into the following categories) 12% unemployment and jobs, 9% terrorism, 8% ethics and corruption, 8% economy, 7% education, 5% government performance, 4% business climate, 3% taxes, 2% violence, 2% government budget (all others under 2%)

In light of the recent attack on the World Trade Center in New York, how worried are you about terrorist attacks in the United States? 40% very worried, 37% somewhat worried, 11% not very worried, 12% don't know or no answer

Have you altered your personal behavior in order to protect yourself from possible terrorism? 17% yes, 68% no, 15% don't know or no answer

Which of the following actions do you think the United States should undertake to prevent future terrorist attacks:

    a) strengthen airport security: 87% yes, 1% no, 12% don't know or no answer

    b) put more money into intelligence-gathering: 79% yes, 5% no, 16% don't know or no answer

    c) alter U.S. foreign policy: 65% yes, 15% no, 20% don't know or no answer

    d) promote better international understanding: 77% yes, 7% no, 16% don't know or no answer

What type of terrorism concerns you the most? 29% germ warfare, 14% suicide bombers, 4% poison gas, 22% nuclear weapons, 31% don't know or no answer

Darrell M. West