SADOW: Recent Polls Present A Quandary For Louisiana’s Democrats

A couple of polls concerning the governor’s contest later this year have hit the public consciousness. You can’t put much stock in them as to how the contest will turn out, but they do show the very broad contours of the race as it threatens to develop, and provide especially trenchant information for Democrats.

One organization put one out last week, and another followed this week, with roughly the same sampling frame. Both excluded cellular phone numbers, which almost certainly introduces error into the results as roughly three-eighths of the population nationally live in wireless-only households, and the proportion probably is higher in Louisiana as states with more extensive rural populations disproportionately have these kinds of households. It’s debatable how this bias works in if at all, for as the younger and Hispanics, for example, are both disproportionately likely to vote for Democrats and also not have households with landlines, at the same time they are less likely to vote.

Regardless, the results for both came out about the same: Republican Sen. David Vitter lead the way in the mid-thirties of percent, not far behind him came Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards, trailing much further back in the mid-teens was Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, and trailing in single digits was Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. The undecided portion comprised in the 10-15 percent range.

That last group provokes some questions, as that is a low figure seven months out prior to a gubernatorial election. Simply, the public is just not so attentive at this point that so many would have a preference for a specific candidate and even among the attentive it’s early for many to make up their minds, so that figure is suspiciously low. Although the protocols for both surveys aren’t public knowledge, it appears that party labels were mentioned along with candidates’ names, and that may explain the low number: many respondents may not be familiar with some or even all of the names, but they do know what labels they prefer. This also explains how in one of these only a small majority would prefer a generic Republican over a generic Democrat, which seems to have been asked prior to the names and parties; with greater familiarity of the candidates, particularly matching a name to a partisanship, the actual margin would widen.

This tells us three things about the shape of the contest, besides the obvious that it’s almost certain to go to a runoff. First, Vitter continues to be the favorite, but his support probably is softer than these polls lead to believe. With a significant portion of the sample likely answering on the basis of partisanship, his name among the three Republicans would be the most recognizable.

Second, with a lead of over 20 points on Dardenne and closer to 30 on Angelle, it’s not likely that the soft portion of Vitter’s support is so extensive that if it all abandoned him that would be enough for either GOP rival to surpass him, even if it improbably all went to one of the pair. With any degree of success in getting those who historically vote Republican that at this point pick him because of familiarity to become permanently attached after they bother to inform themselves to any degree about the race, Vitter is a strong runoff possibility and Dardenne and Angelle are not well-positioned in that regard.

Third, that is exacerbated by Edwards’ showing. Clearly he is getting the default reliable Democrat vote, although by these numbers probably not much beyond that. As long as he remains the only quality Democrat in the race, only a collapse by Vitter would allow Angelle or Dardenne into a runoff.

Which sends an irritating reminder to Democrats. Neither poll gives any reason to believe that a Vitter-Edwards runoff would not end in victory for the candidate Democrat elites least prefer, and thereby presents them with the same quandary as did last year’s Fifth Congressional District contest. Then, politically-damaged Republican incumbent Rep. Vance McAllister faced off against a few conservative Republicans and Democrat Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo. McAllister from time to time had voted along the lines of and/or had articulated Democrat preferences, but Democrat leaders did nothing to encourage other quality Democrats to run or to discourage Mayo’s participation, who if absent may have prompted many Democrats to vote for McAllister, or if joined by other Democrats may have found his vote insufficient to make the runoff. As it was, with just the one quality Democrat running, the incumbent got swamped and Mayo wound up in a runoff with perhaps the contest’s then-most conservative GOP candidate, now-Rep. Ralph Abraham, as a result of his decisive win over Mayo.

Given their past records, Vitter promises to be the most conservative and doctrinaire of the Republican field. These numbers give no indication that Edwards can win and that Vitter is the likeliest winner. By fronting another quality Democrat into the race, the damage that would do to Edwards’ support could put another Republican less objectionable to Vitter into a runoff with the frontrunner that Democrats could support then. Swing for the fences against great odds or cut your losses is the main piece of information Democrats take from these polls.



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