New Poll Shows John Bel Edwards’ Re-Election Prospects Aren’t Great At All

Nothing in the new SurveyUSA poll released this morning by Sen. John Kennedy’s camp would be particularly surprising, as it confirms lots of speculation political insiders have been bandying about, but its numbers are worth discussing for a number of reasons as relates to the 2019 statewide election cycle which will feature the re-election effort of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Back in April there was a Mason-Dixon poll which put Edwards’ approval rating at 55 percent, which would be a healthy number, but when tested against potential opponents it signified trouble. Mason-Dixon matched Edwards against Kennedy, and he was slightly ahead by a 45-44 count, against Rep. Steve Scalise who he edged 46-43, and against Rep. Ralph Abraham who he led by a larger 51-29 margin. Combining the three results offered a 47 percent “generic” re-elect number in the Mason-Dixon poll, which isn’t generally a favorable starting point for an incumbent; it means Edwards was polling only two points better than Derrick Edwards did in last year’s Treasurer’s race. As Derrick Edwards, who’s generally a sympathetic figure, raised little money and did little campaigning he would set the mark for a “generic” Democrat; John Bel Edwards polling only two points better than that despite being an incumbent governor with almost uninterrupted positive notices from the legacy media would have to be considered a relatively weak performer.

That was two months back. The SurveyUSA poll indicates things are declining for the governor.

Here’s the poll summary…

2019 Louisiana Governor Look-Ahead: Kennedy Defeats Edwards in Runoff: 

18 months until the likely runoff in the 2019 Louisiana race for Governor, Republican John Kennedy is well-positioned to defeat incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards. In a runoff today, 06/22/18, Kennedy takes 51% of the vote; Edwards 37%.

Edwards and Kennedy tie in a hypothetical general election today, with each at 35%. Republican US Representative Ralph Abraham gets 8%, with 22% of likely voters undecided at this early date.

Asked who their second choice would be in a general election, 57% of Kennedy voters pick fellow Republican Abraham; 20% of Kennedy voters defect to the Democrat, Edwards. Of those who vote for Edwards as a first choice, 29% vote for Kennedy as a second choice, 11% for Abraham.

SurveyUSA also asked voters if they had strongly favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or strongly unfavorable views of the candidates and of other political figures and the legislature. Combined favorable, unfavorable, and net favorability numbers for each follow, ranked from highest to lowest net favorability:

* Senator John Kennedy: 58% favorable; 30% unfavorable; Plus 28
* President Donald Trump: 56% favorable; 39% unfavorable; Plus 17
* Senator Bill Cassidy: 48% favorable; 34% unfavorable; Plus 14
* Governor John Bel Edwards: 53% favorable; 41% unfavorable; Plus 12
* Congressman Ralph Abraham: 18% favorable; 21% unfavorable; Minus 3

Half of Louisiana voters say the state must cut spending to balance the budget; 7% say the state must raise taxes; 29% say Louisiana must take both steps.

Filtering and Context: SurveyUSA interviewed 812 Louisiana adults 06/19/18 through 06/22/18. Of the adults, 666 were registered to vote. Of the registered voters, 600 were determined by SurveyUSA to have either voted in the 2016 election for President or to have registered after the election took place, and are included in the results which follow.

The 53 percent favorable approval rating is relatively similar to the 55 percent in the April Mason-Dixon survey, and it’s even a little higher than the 50 percent Edwards polled in Morning Consult’s quarterly gubernatorial approval ratings in April. But within that 53 percent the figure is very soft; only 17 percent gave Edwards a strong favorable, with 36 percent giving him a somewhat favorable. And the 51-37 rout in Edwards’ re-elect number against Kennedy is devastating for the Democrat; it indicates he’s polling worse than a generic Democrat does.

If there’s a lesson in these numbers it’s that consistent positive media notices can prop up a politician’s approval ratings but they won’t change the fundamentals of a political race. Those media notices will encourage people who talk to pollsters to give lukewarm service to a “favored” candidate or position but not to influence voting decisions in normal circumstances.

And of course there’s an overriding takeaway from this – which is that Kennedy is clearly preparing the battlefield for a gubernatorial run in 2019. When his camp is commissioning polls matching him against Edwards, that’s about as sure a sign as you’ll see he’s getting ready to run.

Something else in support of that is this number, which isn’t in the poll summary…

Remember, he’s 37-51 against Kennedy. The generic number is actually a little better for the GOP, though there isn’t really any difference.

What that 35-51 number means is that while Republicans might well need John Kennedy to run against Edwards next year in order to raise the money and clear the field enough to have a favorable or at least even head-to-head shot at beating the governor, Kennedy isn’t the only Republican who can win the race based on the desires of the electorate. Kennedy’s camp didn’t poll Abraham against Edwards, nor would anyone expect them to.

But our guess is that relatively soon Abraham’s camp will release their own poll showing they’re not all that far from Kennedy’s numbers and that if he was the man in the runoff with the governor he’d win similarly.

There is time for that question to shake out. But what this poll does set up will be an internal discussion among Louisiana Republicans which is a productive one to hash out – namely, is it necessary to cannibalize a U.S. Senator to beat Edwards, or can someone move up to the governor’s mansion from a more traditional position? And is there another potential candidate with a ceiling as high or perhaps higher than Abraham who could make the race?

None of this has to be decided now. By Christmas it would be nice to have a handle on it, though, because it’s going to take time for a viable candidate to emerge with enough of a war chest to carry the fight to Edwards. And the one thing the state’s Republicans – and for that matter the state at large – cannot have is a field full of underfunded Republican candidates beating each other up in the primary while Edwards goes untouched to Election Day. That was the nightmare scenario of 2015, and repeating it seems to be the only way Edwards would get another four years.

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