A tale of two polls

Recent polls released in Louisiana and in Florida not only confirm Louisiana’s current conservative mood, but also show that the poll lead that Florida’s party switching Governor currently has is built on a very weak foundation that will erode as Election Day gets closer.

Southern Media and Opinion Research Survey, April 19-23 (600 registered Louisiana voters)

Southern Media recently released a survey which paints a bright red portrait of current voter attitudes in Louisiana. The most important part of the survey is the strong unpopularity of President Obama and his healthcare plan. President Obama registers strong disapproval from poll respondents (39% approval/58% disapproval), which is consistent with the 59%-40% vote for John McCain in the 2008 Presidential election. Healthcare reform is even more unpopular, with 32% support and 63% opposition.

Governor Jindal still has good approval ratings (61% approve/37% disapprove), although these numbers have declined from the 68-30% approval/disapproval he had a year ago. We see several factors at play here: (1) Some of the effects of the “Great Recession” are being felt here in Louisiana, as declining tax revenues have led to a series of budget cuts, and these cuts undoubtedly affect Governor Jindal’s popularity; (2) the brunt of these budget cuts affects the Baton Rouge area, and it’s no accident that this part of the state gives Governor Jindal his weakest numbers statewide (his approval/disapproval numbers in the Baton Rouge area are 53-45%); (3) because partisan lines have hardened, the 60/40 conservative/liberal split apparent from the 2008 Presidential race and the Obama approval numbers is also showing up in Governor Jindal’s approval ratings.

This polarization also plays a part in the differing approval ratings of our two U.S Senators. Senator David Vitter has a 54-36% approval/disapproval and currently leads Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon 49-31% in the poll. While this is a downtick from a series of Rasmussen polls between January and April showing Senator Vitter with an average 55-35% lead, it’s also worth noting that both candidates have been affected by this downtick in support. Fortunately, Senator Vitter’s approval ratings have remained above 50%, which could not be similarly said for Senator Mary Landrieu. Her approval ratings in the wake of healthcare reform/the “Louisiana Purchase” have tumbled to 43-54% approve/disapprove. The underlying detail reveals further bad news for the senior senator: (1) even in her native New Orleans, which she carried 58-40% over John Kennedy in 2008, her approval ratings are a paltry 50-46%; (2) her approval ratings are 38% outside the New Orleans and Baton Rouge media markets – this is a region of the state John Kennedy only narrowly carried 49.1%-48.6% over Mary Landrieu in 2008; and (3) Her approval ratings with white males are a jaw dropping 21-75% approve/disapprove.

Finally, for those legislators seeking re-election or promotion to a higher office next year, it’s worth noting that 80% of poll respondents indicated that they’re less likely to vote for a legislator who supported the botched pay raise in 2008.

Mason Dixon Poll, May 3-5 (625 likely Florida voters)

The Florida Senate race seemed to take a turn towards the unpredictable when Governor Charlie Crist changed parties so he could run as an Independent in the November election instead of facing certain defeat at the hands of Republican primary voters in August. In the media afterglow of his party switch, a poll came out showing him leading with 38% of the vote, compared to 32% for his likely Republican opponent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, while Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek received a paltry 19% (11% are undecided).

However, a closer examination of the details beneath these summary numbers confirms our belief that he has peaked politically, because of our earlier statement that “until (April 29), Governor Crist’s political advancement has been solely within the context of the Republican party.” For one thing, the survey noted that Crist is receiving 19% of the black vote and 48% of Democrats. As the campaign progresses, partisan battle lines will harden and those Democrats (especially black voters) will return to the Democratic nominee. And as Democrats defect, Governor Crist will find that unified Republican support of Marco Rubio will prevent him from making any headway with that portion of the electorate; in fact, the poll noted that not only did Rubio lead 70-18% with Republicans, but only about 20% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of the Governor. What about Independents ? While it is true that Governor Crist currently leads 55-19% with that demographic, it’s important to note several things: (1) Independents make up 22% of the electorate, so they can’t alone carry Governor Crist to victory while he simultaneously hemorrhages Democratic and Republican voters; (2) liberal minded Independents will likely demonstrate their approval of Obama Administration policies by supporting the Democratic nominee in November, while conservative minded Independents will similarly move towards the GOP nominee by Election Day; (3) a significant number of Independents on either side of the ideological spectrum can be swayed by the “don’t throw away your vote” argument that will be employed by both parties. In fact, a similar argument was used in last year’s Governors race in New Jersey, when an Independent candidate several weeks before the election saw his 19% standing in the polls evaporate to 6% by Election Day.

John is a political consultant and blogger with JMC Enterprises with expertise in poll sample development and analysis, development of targeted voter files for phone canvassing or mail outs, campaign strategy and demographic consulting, among other things. See his site at WinWithJMC.com for more information.



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