Strong Support for Pension Reform, December 2011

A recent statewide public opinion survey conducted by the Taubman Center at Brown University finds strong support for the recently enacted pension reform bill introduced by Gov. Lincoln Chafee and State Treasurer Gina Raimondo. While Raimondo’s approval rating has risen sharply, Chafee’s approval numbers have dipped.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new public opinion survey by Brown University researchers finds the majority of Rhode Island voters support the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act (RIRSA), recent legislation that was passed to reform the state worker pension system.

Researchers at the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory at Brown University surveyed a random sample of 464 Rhode Island voters from Dec. 2 to Dec. 9, 2011. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

The poll found that a large majority of Rhode Islanders (71.8 percent) has been paying attention to the pension issue, and nearly nine out of 10 Rhode Islanders (89.7 percent) feel that pension reform is important to the future economic well-being of the state. Overall, 60.1 percent of voters support or strongly support the new pension law, while 27.5 percent of respondents oppose or strongly oppose it. Support for RIRSA transcends party affiliation, with Independents (63.6 percent), Democrats (57.6 percent) and Republicans (64.4 percent) all solidly backing the bill. A majority (58.2 percent) believes that the state should also develop a uniform plan to fix independent municipal pension plans.

Voter identification
The poll asked voters whether they approve of a state law that will require voters to present identification in order to vote beginning in 2012. The vast majority of Rhode Islanders (84.9 percent) were in favor of the identification rule, regardless of party affiliation. Nearly four in five Democrats (79.4 percent) and almost all Republicans (96.6 percent) were in favor of voter identification. These results are consistent with national polls on support for voter identification requirements.

Tree controversy
The poll asked Rhode Islanders about the recent controversy over Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s “holiday tree.” When queried about which term they prefer for the decorated spruce tree in the State House, most voters picked “Christmas tree” (76.9 percent). Only 11.2 percent prefer “holiday tree” and nearly the same number, 11.9 percent, either didn’t care to weigh in or wanted to call it something else.

Approval ratings
Chafee’s approval rating has dipped, with only 27.4 percent of voters rating his work excellent or good. In March 2011, 32.3 percent of voters felt he was doing an excellent or good job. Democrats are the most satisfied with Chafee’s recent performance (38.8 percent), with Republicans (15.3 percent) and Independents (21.7 percent) much less so.

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s approval rating has risen significantly, from 39.5 percent good or excellent in March 2011 to 52.0 percent in December 2011. Raimondo, a Democrat, has good or excellent ratings from a majority of Republicans (61 percent) and Independents (59.6 percent), but significantly lower marks from Democrats (37.5 percent). However, among Democrats, a high percentage (31.5 percent) didn’t know enough to judge her performance. Overall, a much larger percentage of voters had an opinion about Raimondo’s performance: In March 2011, 36.2 percent of voters didn’t know how to rate her performance, but in December 2011 that number had declined to 21.8 percent.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating is 44.2 percent, a similar number to March 2011, when it was 43.7 percent. Similarly, Rhode Islanders’ opinion on President Obama’s handling of the economy is virtually unchanged: 43.3 percent approved in March and 44 percent approve in December. A majority of Rhode Islanders still feels the state is on the “wrong track” (62.7 percent), a slight rise from the 60.2 percent who felt that way eight months ago.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s statewide approval rating is 24.3 percent, with a 23.1 percent approval rating in his district. U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin has a 41.9 percent approval rating overall with a 41.2 percent approval rating in his district. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has an approval rating of 33.6 percent and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s approval rating is 46.4 percent.

On the local level, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’ 51.7 percent approval rating is higher than Rhode Island voters reported for most state or national public officials. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts has an approval rating of 32.8 percent. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has an approval rating of 34.5 percent. Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis has a 25.6 percent approval rating, while 25.9 approve of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox and 24.1 approve of Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed.

For more information contact Marion Orr at 401-863-9436.

Survey questions and answers

  1. How would you rate the job Barack Obama is doing as president? Excellent 12.5%; Good 31.7%; Only fair 27.8%; Poor 27.2%; DK/NA 0.8%
  2. How would you rate the job Jack Reed is doing as U.S. senator? Excellent 13.4%; Good 33.0%; Only fair 28.0%; Poor 14.6%; DK/NA 11.0%
  3. How would you rate the job Sheldon Whitehouse is doing as U.S. senator? Excellent 7.5%; Good 26.1%; Only fair 32.4%; Poor 21.1%; DK/NA 12.9%
  4. How would you rate the job David Cicilline is doing as U.S. representative? Excellent 3.4%; Good 20.9%; Only fair 23.1%; Poor 35.4%; DK/NA 17.2%
  5. How would you rate the job Jim Langevin is doing as U.S. representative? Excellent 9.1%; Good 32.8%; Only fair 25.4%; Poor 12.5%; DK/NA 20.2%
  6. How would you rate the job Lincoln Chafee is doing as governor? Excellent 3.9%; Good 23.5%; Only fair 25.6%; Poor 40.5%; DK/NA 6.5%
  7. How would you rate the job Elizabeth Roberts is doing as lieutenant governor? Excellent 5.4%; Good 27.4%; Only fair 29.1%; Poor 11.9%; DK/NA 26.2%
  8. How would you rate the job Peter Kilmartin is doing as attorney general? Excellent 5.8%; Good 28.7%; Only fair 23.1%; Poor 6.9%; DK/NA 35.5%
  9. How would you rate the job A. Ralph Mollis is doing as secretary of state? Excellent 3.0%; Good 22.6%; Only fair 28.0%; Poor 12.6%; DK/NA 33.8%
  10. How would you rate the job Gina Raimondo is doing as general treasurer? Excellent 23.3%; Good 28.7%; Only fair 16.4%; Poor 9.9%; DK/NA 21.7%
  11. How would you rate the job Gordon Fox is doing as House speaker? Excellent 5.0%; Good 20.9%; Only fair 27.4%; Poor 18.3%; DK/NA 28.4%
  12. How would you rate the job Teresa Paiva-Weed is doing as Senate president? Excellent 4.5%; Good 19.6%; Only fair 24.1%; Poor 17.5%; DK/NA 34.3%
  13. How would you rate the job Angel Taveras is doing as mayor of Providence? Excellent 15.3%; Good 36.4%; Only fair 21.8%; Poor 11.2%; DK/NA 15.3%
  14. Changing topics, would you describe the state of the nation’s economy these days as Excellent 0.0%; Good 6.2%; Not so good 41.6%; Poor 52.2%; DK/NA 0.0%?
  15. Would you describe the state of Rhode Island’s economy these days as Excellent 0.4%; Good 3.0%; Not so good 26.5%; Poor 69.8%; DK/NA 0.3%?
  16. Would you describe the state of your own personal finances these days as Excellent 5.2%; Good 46.8%; Not so good 29.3%; Poor 15.9%; DK/NA 2.8%
  17. Generally speaking, would you say things in Rhode Island are going in the right direction or have they gotten off on the wrong track? Right direction 21.1%; Off on wrong track 62.7%; Mixed 11.4%; DK/NA 4.8%
  18. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling the economy? Approve 44.0%; Disapprove 47.8%; DK/NA 8.2%
  19. How much attention have you given the discussion of pension reform in Rhode Island? A lot 42.5%; Some 29.3%; Not very much 15.5%; Not at all 11.4%; DK/NA 1.3%
  20. Do you think pension reform is very important, important, not very important or not at all important to the future economic well being of Rhode Island? Very important 57.8%; Important 31.9%; Not very important 2.4%; Not at all important 2.4%; DK/NA 5.5%
  21. Recently state lawmakers passed, and the governor signed, legislation to reform the state’s pension system covering active and retired teachers, state employees, judges and many municipal workers. The new law raises retirement ages for many workers and creates a benefit plan mixing 401(k)-style accounts with pensions. The new law also suspends the automatic annual pension increases (COLAs) for retires for five years and then awards increases only if pension investments perform well. Do you strongly support, support, oppose or strongly oppose the new pension law? Strongly support 18.3%; Support 41.8%; Oppose 15.9%; Strongly oppose 11.6%; DK/NA 12.4%
  22. Do you think the state is responsible for developing a uniform plan to fix the many independent municipal pension plans in Rhode Island? Yes 58.2%; No 25.4%; DK/NA 16.4%
  23. Rhode Island has recently enacted new legislation designed to guard against illegal voting . Have you or someone you know gone to a Rhode Island voting place only to find that someone else has used your name to vote illegally? Yes 5.2%; No 90.9%; DK/NA 3.9%
  24. Beginning in 2012, poll workers will ask you to show a current and valid ID when you vote at your polling place. Acceptable photo IDs include a Rhode Island drivers license, a U.S. passport, an ID card issued by an educational institution in the United States, a U.S. military identification card, a State of Rhode Island or federal government-issued ID card, or a government-issued medical card. Do you approve or disapprove of this approach to stop illegal voting? Approve 84.9%; Disapprove 10.8%; DK/NA 4.3%
  25. Which name do you prefer for the tree being decorated and lit at the State House this season? Do you prefer Christmas tree, Holiday tree or something else? Christmas tree 76.9%; Holiday tree 11.2%; Something else 3.7%; DK/NA 8.2%
Jack Combs, Marion Orr