First CD1 poll shows independent voters have power to influence election

A NEW POLL from The Pell Center at Salve Regina University in Newport shows just how important independent voters will be in deciding the outcome of the First Congressional District special election on Nov. 7. That is, if they show up to vote. /RHODE ISLAND CURRENT PHOTOS / JANINE L. WEISMAN AND MICHAEL SALERNO

Democrat Gabe Amo appears to have an 11-percentage-point lead over Republican Gerry Leonard Jr. in the 1st Congressional District race, but undecided, independent voters could widen, or close that gap between now and the Nov. 7 election, according to new public polling data.

The survey published Thursday by The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University is the first public polling for the congressional special election. The online survey, which also included questions on other public policy and national political issues, asked 388 district voters who they would support if the election were held today.

Overall, 46% of voters supported Amo, compared with 35% for Leonard, while 15% were undecided. The rest did not plan to vote, according to the survey, which had a 4% margin of error.

The seat has sat empty since June, when former U.S. Rep. David Cicilline stepped down to take a job leading the Rhode Island Foundation. After a heated 12-way Democratic primary on Sept. 5, the general election has flown under the radar, although the absence of a House speaker in recent weeks added some interest. The speaker would swear in Rhode Island’s new congressional representative.

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“With a vacancy for multiple months, we really wanted to get a pulse on where Rhode Islanders stand,” said Katie Langford Sonder, associate director for the Pell Center.

“Our general sense is that many Rhode Islanders don’t know [the election] is happening so asking the question and getting some news coverage around it might also help spread the word.”

It could also influence the candidates’ get-out-the-vote strategies heading into the final stretch before the election, particularly among unaffiliated voters.

Half of independent voters surveyed are either undecided, or not planning to vote in the upcoming election, with the remainder split nearly equally between Amo and Leonard.

“If either candidate can get independents out to the polls, it could swing the election either way,” Langford Sonder said. “The strong Democrats and strong Republicans have already made up their minds and are very difficult to sway. But there are people in the middle still undecided or who might not care enough to show up to the polls.”

Not that either campaign has indicated the poll results will change their messaging.

Matt Rauschenbach, a spokesperson for Amo’s campaign, instead sought to lump Leonard in with other House Republicans, including newly elected speaker Mike Johnson.

“For the last few weeks, the U.S. House has been unable to do the work of the American people because of the embarrassing lack of leadership from House Republicans,” Rauschenbach said in an emailed statement on Thursday.

“Now, they’ve chosen a Speaker who is an election denier, advocate for a national abortion ban, and an opponent of gay marriage; he even voted against President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Rhode Islanders understand that we cannot send a Republican to Washington  to join the ranks of Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

Unsurprisingly, Amo had a clear lock on registered Democrats, with more than 80% of those surveyed suggesting they would vote for the former White House staffer. Republican support for Leonard was even stronger, with 88% picking the former U.S. Marine colonel.

However, Leonard’s campaign stressed his appeal to a broader swath of voters.

“Gerry Leonard’s distinguished 30 years of service as a US marine and message of principles over politics, clearly resonates with RI voters,” Brandon Bell, campaign director, said in an emailed response on Thursday. “We encourage voters from all political parties to join our campaign to fight extremism and return common sense to DC. ”

Younger voters were also more likely to favor Amo, who had nearly a two-to-one advantage over Leonard among voters ages 18 to 49. However, voters ages 50 and older were more evenly split between Amo and Leonard.

In terms of race and ethnicity, Amo trumped Leonard in all four categories  – white, Hispanic, Black and Asian American and Pacific Islanders – though Leonard also showed strong support among white voters, 40% of whom backed the Republican compared with 45% for Amo.

“That really shows that Hispanic voters have moved behind Amo,” Langford Sonder said.

Results from the other questions included in the survey, which has a 3.3% margin of error, will be released in November. The survey was conducted by Embold Research from Oct.12-17, with questions in English and Spanish.

Early voting began Oct. 18 for the Nov. 7 election.

Nancy Lavin is a staff writer for the Rhode Island Current.

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