Taubman Center Public Opinion Survey

Poll finds mixed support for Chafee’s new tax proposal

March 24, 2011  |  Media Contact: Deborah Baum |  401-863-2476
A new survey of Rhode Island voters gauges public opinion on Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s new tax proposals, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’s plan to close some public schools, collective bargaining rights, and job performances of federal, state, and local officials.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new Brown University survey of Rhode Island voters finds mixed support for Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s plan to address the state’s budget deficit with a new sales tax structure. Respondents were ambivalent about the proposal to add sales tax on some goods and services, but strongly opposed to new taxes on heating fuel, water bills, and textbooks.

The survey was conducted March 11-13, 2011, by researchers at the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory at Brown University. It is based on a statewide random sample of 425 registered voters in Rhode Island. Overall, the poll has a margin of error of about plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

Under Chafee’s budget proposal, Rhode Islanders would pay a sales tax on some goods and services that are currently tax-free, including clothing, eyeglasses, nonprescription drugs, movie tickets, textbooks, and coffins. The plan would also add a 1-percent sales tax to taxi fares, dry cleaning, heating fuels, and residential water bills.

The survey found mixed support for some of the proposals, but strong opposition for other parts. For example, 59 percent of respondents said they support adding the sales tax to dry cleaning and 57 support taxing movie and concert tickets. However, 87.5 percent of respondents opposed or strongly opposed adding a 1-percent tax to heating fuel, 80 percent felt similarly about water bills, and 77 percent about textbooks. A slim majority of respondents opposed the proposal to add a 1-percent tax to clothing and shoes (51.7 percent opposed taxing clothing and 50.9 opposed taxing shoes). The poll found that registered voters support the idea of lowering the state sales tax from 7 to 6 percent: 58 percent approved the plan, while 35 percent opposed.

They survey included questions about collective bargaining for public sector unions. The poll found that 54 percent of the state’s registered voters opposed taking away some of the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. However, a sizable minority, 40 percent, favored removing some of the collective bargaining rights of municipal and state unions.

The poll also asked about some of the challenges facing Providence’s new mayor, Angel Taveras. First, the poll asked respondents who they held responsible for the city’s budget deficit. Eighty percent of respondents believed the Providence City Council is responsible for the city’s current budget problems, while 77 percent faulted former Mayor David Cicilline. Seventy-seven percent blamed the problems on the economic depression, 68 percent said the General Assembly is responsible, 60 percent blamed public employee unions, and 54 percent thought former governor Donald Carcieri is responsible.

When asked about Taveras’s plan to close between four and six schools because of enrollment declines, 76 percent of the respondents said they “strongly agree” or “agree” with the plan. Registered voters, however, were more ambivalent with Taveras’s decision to fire all Providence teachers. Fifty-one percent said they approved of the decision, while 45 percent said they disagreed.

Approval Ratings

Rhode Island voters were divided in their opinion of the way President Barack Obama is handling the economy: 43.3 percent approved and 48.5 percent disapproved. Obama’s overall approval rating was 43.7 percent. Fifty-one percent of respondents rated the performance of Sen. Jack Reed “excellent” or “good," while 38 percent approved of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s job performance. Seventeen percent felt Rep. David Cicilline is doing an “excellent” or “good” job and 48 percent gave Rep. Jim Langevin the same rating. Orr noted a large (34 percent) proportion of "Don’t Know/No Answer” responses to the Cicilline question.

On the state and local level, Chafee’s approval rating is 32 percent, while Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts has a 33 percent approval rating. Thirty-one percent think Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is going an “excellent” or “good” job, 32 percent feel Secretary of State Ralph Mollis is doing an “excellent” or “good” job, and 39 percent approve of Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s performance. Fifty percent of respondents think Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist is doing an “excellent” or “good” job.

Taveras received a 52 percent approval rating from respondents. Twenty-three percent believe House Speaker Gordon Fox is doing an “excellent” or “good” job and 23 percent feel Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed is doing an “excellent” or “good” job.

The Taubman Center poll also asked voters their opinion of how towns handled snow removal this winter. Sixty percent of respondents said their town did a good job, 27 percent said their town did a fair job and 9 percent said their town did poorly.

For more information, contact Marion Orr (401) 863-9436

Survey Questions and Answers

  1. How would you rate the job Barack Obama is doing as president? Excellent 10.1%; good 33.6%; only fair 32.7%; poor 22.8%; DK/NA .8%
  2. How would you rate the job Jack Reed is doing as US Senator? Excellent 11.5%; good 39.8%; only fair 26.8%; poor 13.6%; DK/NA 8.3%
  3. How would you rate the job Sheldon Whitehouse is doing as U.S. Senator? Excellent 6.8%; good 32.0%; only fair 28.0%; poor 21.6%; DK/NA 11.6%
  4. How would you rate the job David Cicilline is doing as U.S. Representative? Excellent 2.6%; good 14.4%; only fair 23.1%; poor 25.9%; DK/NA 34.0%
  5. How would you rate the job Jim Langevin is doing as U.S. Representative? Excellent 10.4%; good 37.6%; only fair 29.2%; poor 11.8%; DK/NA 11.0%
  6. How would you rate the job Lincoln Chafee is doing as governor? Excellent 3.8%; good 28.5%; only fair 24.2%; poor 32.0%; DK/NA 11.5%
  7. How would you rate the job Elizabeth Roberts is doing as lieutenant governor? Excellent 4.5%; good 29.4%; only fair 27.1%; poor 14.8%; DK/NA 24.2%
  8. How would you rate the job Peter Kilmartin is doing as attorney general? Excellent 4.5%; good 26.6%; only fair 18.8%; poor 4.7%; DK/NA 45.4%
  9. How would you rate the job A. Ralph Mollis is doing as secretary of state? Excellent 2.1%; good 30.1%; only fair 23.3%; poor 10.4%; DK/NA 34.1%
  10. How would you rate the job Gina Raimondo is doing as general treasurer? Excellent 10.8%; good 28.7%; only fair 19.3%; poor 4.9%; DK/NA 36.2%
  11. How would you rate the job Gordon Fox is doing as House Speaker? Excellent 2.1%; good 21.4%; only fair 26.1%; poor 18.6%; DK/NA 31.8%
  12. How would you rate the job Teresa Paiva-Weed is doing as Senate President? Excellent 3.5%; good 19.8%; only fair 23.1%; poor 19.8%; DK/NA 33.8%
  13. How would you rate the job Angel Taveras is doing as Mayor of Providence? Excellent 12.2%; good 39.8%; only fair 18.6%; poor 13.4%; DK/NA 16.0%
  14. How would you rate the job Deborah Gist is doing as RI Commissioner of Education? Excellent 18.1%; good 32.2%; only fair 21.4%; poor 12.0%; DK/NA 16.3%
  15. Changing topics, would you describe the state of the nation's economy these days as Excellent .2%; good 8.0%; not so good 46.4%; or poor 45.4%? DK/NA 0%
  16. Would you describe the state of Rhode Island’s economy these days as Excellent .5%; good 4.2%; not so good 27.3%; or poor 68.0%? DK/NA 0%
  17. Would you describe the state of your own personal finances these days as excellent 5.6%; good 51.3%; not so good 28.2%; or poor 13.2%? DK/NA 1.7
  18. Generally speaking, would you say things in Rhode Island are: going in the right direction 22.8 %; gotten off on the wrong track 60.2%? Mixed 10.1% DK/NA 6.9%
  19. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling the economy? Approve 43.3% Disapprove 48.5% DK/NA 8.2%
  20. As you may know, by law most states must balance their budgets, but many states including Rhode Island are now unable to do so. In your opinion, which is the better way to address this problem? the federal government gives more money to the states to help them meet their budgets even if it means higher federal deficits 25.2%; the states take care of this themselves either by raising state taxes or cutting state services 66.1%; DK/NA 8.7%
  21. What is the best way to deal with the budget problems facing our state? Should state lawmakers: Cut major programs 21.9%; increasing taxes 3.5%; combination of both 67.8% , neither 5.4%; DK/NA 1.4%
  22. Rhode Island needs to find ways to balance its budget this year. Do you think the state should or should not:
    1. Decrease funding for K through 12 public schools: Should 16.2%; should not 79.5%; DK/NA 4.3%
    2. Decrease health care services: Should 21.9%; should not 72.7%; DK/NA 5.4%
    3. Decrease funding for maintaining roads: Should 25.9%; should not 70.8%; DK/NA 3.3%
    4. Decrease the pension plans of government employees: Should 66.4%; should not 27.8%; DK/NA 5.8%
    5. Increase personal income taxes: Should 33.4%; should not 61.9%; DK/NA 4.7%
    6. Decrease funding for public colleges and universities: Should 32.2%; should not 64.2%; DK/NA 3.6%
    7. Increase sales taxes: Should 40.5%; should not 56.5%; DK/NA 3.0%
    8. Increase taxes on businesses: Should 37.9%; should not 56.5%; DK/NA 5.6%
  23. Governor Lincoln Chafee has proposed an overall reduction in the states sales tax rate from 7% to 6%. He argues that the lower rate could help attract shoppers from Massachusetts and Connecticut. Do you Strongly support 10.1%; support 48.2%; oppose 26.8%; strongly oppose 9.2%; DK/NA 5.6%
  24. Under Governor Chafee’s proposed budget, Rhode Islanders would pay sales tax on goods and services that have long gone tax-free. For taxes on the following items, do you:
    1. Over-the–counter drugs: Strongly support 2.8%; support 31.5%; oppose 48.5%; strongly oppose 16.0%; DK/NA 1.2%
    2. Dry cleaning: Strongly support 5.9%; support 53.9%; oppose 28.2%; strongly oppose 8.7%; DK/NA 3.3%
    3. Taxi fares: Strongly support 4.0%; support 42.6%; oppose 39.8%; strongly oppose 9.9%; DK/NA 3.7%
    4. Movie and concert tickets: Strongly support 7.1%; support 50.8%; oppose 30.4%; srongly oppose 10.8%; DK/NA 0.9%
    5. Coffins: Strongly support 3.3%; support 29.4%; oppose 43.8%; strongly oppose 19.3%; DK/NA4.2%
  25. Governor Chafee has also proposed a new 1% tax on many other items now untaxed. For a 1% tax on the following items, do you:
    1. Clothes: Strongly support 4.9%; support 42.6%; oppose 35.5%; strongly oppose 16.2%; DK/NA 0.8%
    2. Shoes: Strongly support 4.7%; support 44.2%; oppose 35.1%; strongly oppose 15.8%; DK/NA .2%
    3. Heating fuel: Strongly support 2.1%; support 10.4%; oppose 50.6%; strongly oppose 36.9%; DK/NA 0%
    4. Water bills: Strongly support 2.1%; support 15.5%; oppose 51.5%; strongly oppose 28.5%; DK/NA 2.4%
    5. Textbooks: Strongly support 1.4%; support 20.2%; oppose 54.6%; strongly oppose 22.1%; DK/NA 1.7%
  26. State Rep. Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, has sponsored a bill that would tax sweetened soft drinks 1 cent per ounce paid for by the manufacturer, distributor or wholesaler. Supporters say the tax would generate about $28 million in revenue annually and help combat obesity and promote better nutrition. Do you: Strongly support 26.6%; support 41.4%; oppose 19.5%; strongly oppose 10.6%; DK/NA 1.9%
  27. The state is currently studying the feasibility of making I-95 a toll road if they can get approval from the federal government. Proceeds would be earmarked for transportation projects including repair of the state’s roads and bridges. Do you: Favor 24.5%; Oppose 72.5%; DK/NA 3.0%
  28. As you may know, collective bargaining refers to negotiations between an employer and a labor union's members to determine the conditions of employment. Some states are trying to take away some of the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. Do you favor or oppose taking away some of the collective bargaining rights of these unions? Favor 40.6%; Oppose 54.0%; DK/NA 5.4%
  29. The City of Providence is faced with a $70-million deficit in this year’s budget and a projected $100-million deficit for next year. Do you think the following are mostly responsible, responsible, not very responsible or not at all responsible for the cities current budget problems?
    1. Mayor David Cicilline: responsible 33.4%; mostly responsible 44.5%; not very responsible 11.5%; not at all responsible 2.4%; DK/NA 8.2%
    2. City Council: responsible 23.5%; mostly responsible 57.4%; not very responsible 8.0%; not at all responsible 1.6%; DK/NA 9.5%
    3. Public Employees Unions: responsible 20.9%; mostly responsible 39.1%; not very responsible 17.2%; not at all responsible 15.5%; DK/NA 7.3%
    4. Downturn in the economy: responsible 24.0%; mostly responsible 53.9%; not very responsible 9.9%; not at all responsible 6.6%; DK/NA 5.6%
    5. Governor Carcieri: responsible 15.8% mostly responsible 38.6%; not very responsible 19.5%; not at all responsible 19.3%; DK/NA 6.8%
    6. State Legislature: responsible 19.5% mostly responsible 49.2%; not very responsible 11.5%; not at all responsible 8.5%; DK/NA 11.3%
  30. Providence public schools continue to experience a decline in enrollment and many schools are reported to have empty class rooms. Mayor Angel Taveras has decided to close between 4 and 6 schools. Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with closing underutilized schools to save money? strongly agree 28.1%; agree 48.7%; disagree 11.8%; strongly disagree 5.2%; DK/NA 6.2
  31. In another cost cutting move, Mayor Taveras has decided to fire all Providence teachers. This move allows the city to decide which teachers are hired back and in what order. If teachers are laid-off rather than fired, then the city is required to hire those with the greatest seniority who are likely to have the highest salaries first. Do you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the move to fire all teachers? strongly agree 23.8%; agree 27.3%; disagree 26.6%; strongly disagree 18.8%; DK/NA 3.5%
  32. This past winter saw a series of significant snow storms almost one after the other. How well do you think your town did with snow removal? In your opinion, did they do a good, fair, or poor job? good job 60.5%; fair job 27.3%; poor job 9.4%; DK/NA 2.8%
Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.