BAYHAM: A Tale Of Two Louisiana Polls

Republicans in Louisiana were served some strong coffee last week with the release of new a poll conducted by the Baton Rouge-based Southern Media and Opinion Research.

The survey showed that Governor Bobby Jindal, who was re-elected in a landslide less than a year ago with 66%, now enjoys a mere 51% approval rating.

Democratic US Senator Mary Landrieu, whose prospects for a fourth term in 2014 will be affected in some measure by President Barack Obama’s re-election, fared better in the SMOR poll.

Louisiana’s senior senator received an approval rating of 62%, highest of the elected officials polled in the survey. All of Landrieu’s campaigns for the US Senate were close, in which she received 50.1% in 1996, 51.7% in 2002 and 52.1% in 2008.

Republican US Senator David Vitter had a 52% approval rating and Republican Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne was viewed favorably by 47% of the SMOR sample.

The biggest surprise was the poll’s snapshot of the presidential contest in Louisiana.

The Bayou State hasn’t supported a Democrat for president since Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996 and four years ago Louisiana gave the GOP presidential nominee a majority of 59%.

The Southern Media and Opinion Research survey pegged former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney at 45% and President Barack Obama at 39%, roughly the same showing the Democrat received in 2008.

Though it’s fair to assume that the outstanding 16% will break heavily to Romney, that Obama’s Republican challenger only had a 6-point lead raised eyebrows.

A week later Magellan Strategies released a poll that painted a much different political portrait.

The Magellan poll gives Romney a commanding 22-point lead over President Obama in Louisiana, mirroring the 2008 presidential race in the state from the other end.

The GOP nominee for president polled at 59% while the president trails with 36% with 5% undecided. In a reversal of the other poll’s undecided margin, the remainder will likely break to Obama.

The Magellan poll also paints a far less rosy picture for Senator Landrieu. According to their numbers 40% would definitely support her re-election while 51% of those surveyed would support an alternative, though no candidate in particular was named.

In another difference with the SMOR poll, the Magellan survey had Senator Vitter with a 59% approval rating and a 33% disapproval rating.

Lieutenant Governor Dardenne had a 40% approval rating and a 21% disapproval rating.

Though Magellan did not poll Governor Jindal’s approval rating, they did poll the 2015 race for governor.

Six names were slated in an “open primary” with Senator Vitter receiving a plurality of 31% with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu trailing the Republican by less than two points. State Treasurer John Kennedy placed third with 7% followed by Lieutenant Governor Dardenne with 6.5%, New Orleans businessman and one-time gubernatorial candidate John Georges garnered 6% and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.

Vitter, Kennedy, Dardenne and Strain are Republicans and Landrieu is a Democrat. Georges sought the office of mayor of New Orleans in 2010 as a Democrat.

Over 16% of those surveyed expressed no preference.

What to make of these surveys?

First, Governor Jindal has taken major hits on the public relations front with the drastic cuts to the state’s hospital system, which has led to the closure of some facilities that are critical to the health care and economic well being of communities across the state.

Furthermore the only other time the governor seems to make the news is when the local media promulgates his latest campaign venture out of the state on behalf of Governor Romney’s presidential campaign.

When considering the avalanche of negative news coverage he has endured, it’s an accomplishment that his numbers are above 50%. Jindal has governed Louisiana without major scandal and every time a hurricane approaches the Louisiana coastline, the people of the state are reminded exactly why they voted for him twice.

Secondly, I wouldn’t be shocked if Senator Landrieu’s approval rating was above 50% though I don’t think any objective political observer believes her re-elect number would approach 60% in a contested fight.

Mary Landrieu is a unique politician- she polls well in non-election years, nosedives as the election draws close and then defies political conventional wisdom to win in a hostile political environment for a Democratic candidate.

For example, she won re-election in a runoff in 2002, against a strong GOP headwind that returned control of the US Senate to the Republican Party.

Six years later the top of the Republican ticket in Louisiana, John McCain, carried the state with 59%, yet Landrieu still managed to get significant number of Louisianans to split ticket vote, resulting in her biggest majority yet as a US Senate candidate.

Landrieu has not drawn an announced Republican opponent for 2014, though the national GOP will almost certainly invest considerable resources in the hope that the fourth time will be the charm.

Finally, there is the 2015 gubernatorial race. Thus far only one of the names listed in the poll has publicly expressed a strong interest in making the race (Strain). Mayor Landrieu has not even hinted that he is contemplating a bid. His first political priority will be re-election as mayor in early 2014.

In all likelihood, the New Orleans mayor’s name was included as a generic candidate to measure Democratic support.

In order to remain a credible political party, the Democrats can’t afford to make a blanket concession on the statewide level as they did in 2011.

On the Republican end, the Magellan poll confirms the difficulty any Republican candidate would encounter attempting an end-around run on Senator Vitter if he were to throw his hat in the ring for governor.

Vitter’s 88% showing in the 2010 Republican primary for US Senate demonstrated his high popularity amongst conservative voters and his 19-point margin over Blue Dog Democrat Charlie Melancon in the general election shredded any doubt about his electability.

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