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UPDATED: Will Gemma supporters back Cicilline in general election?

Last night, after WPRI-TV released the first portion of its poll on the Democratic primary pitting Congressman David Cicilline against businessman Anthony Gemma, I took a stab at what the poll - which gave Cicilline a comfortable 12-point lead on Gemma - might say about a Cicilline race against Republican Brendan Doherty in November.

The Cicilline-Gemma poll, of course, surveyed Democratic primary voters. But to the extent that the findings can tell us anything about the general election, Cicilline's continued strength among women voters and his improving prospects with seniors might be of concern to the Doherty camp.

After my post, WPRI released the rest of the poll. And the most interesting finding was this: 52 percent of Gemma supporters say they would vote for Doherty over Cicilline in November. That's a big number - and has to provide some succor for a Doherty campaign that has been working hard to win over moderate Democrats.

But how significant is it? Here's my back-of-the-envelope analysis.

The poll gave Cicilline a 43-31 edge on Gemma. So if Gemma supporters constitute about 31 percent of the Democratic electorate and half of those voters go for Doherty in the fall, we're talking at least 15 percent of Democrats casting ballots for the GOP candidate.

The Cicilline-Gemma poll also found about 22 percent of Democratic voters either undecided (17.2%) or voicing a preference for socially conservative fringe candidate Chris Young (4.3 percent). Let's say just about all the Young voters and a small portion of the undecideds go for Doherty - adding 7 percent to the 15 percent cited above, and putting 22 percent of Democrats in Doherty's column.

That's a pretty significant number - 22 percent versus the 11 percent of Democrats, nationwide, who ditched Barack Obama and voted for Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.

But that's not the end of the analysis.

Primaries get voters in a frenzy. Supporters of one Democratic candidate often overestimate their willingness to spurn a rival Democrat in the general election. If history is any guide, it won't be 52 percent of Gemma supporters backing Doherty come November. It'll be something less.

Still, the intensity of the distaste for Cicilline must be considered. In the bitter Democratic primary pitting Obama against Hillary Clinton, as Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect recently noted, just 12 percent of Obama supporters said they wouldn't back Clinton and only 17 percent of Clinton supporters said they wouldn't back Obama in the general election.

The number, here, is much bigger. Cicilline will have a lot of fence-mending to do in his own party if he is the nominee. And he's got considerably more baggage than Obama did heading into his general election fight.

He may have a bigger margin of error - Rhode Island independents, after all, lean more Democratic than independents nationwide. But some of those lean-Democratic independents participated in the WPRI-TV poll and almost certainly share in the rank-and-file's frustration with the incumbent.

Note: this post was updated to note that lean-Democratic independents were included in the poll. 

 

 

 

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