HAYRIDE-REMINGTON RESEARCH POLL: 2018-19 Shaping Up As Battleground In Louisiana Politics

Seeing as though we’re seven weeks until the midterm congressional elections, with a statewide race for Secretary of State on the way, and talk is heating up about the Louisiana governor’s race beginning in 2019, we figured it was just about time for a poll setting the shape of the playing field in Louisiana politics.

So we commissioned one, and what follows are the results of the LA 2019 General Election Survey 091218.

Remington Research conducted the poll from Tuesday, September 11 through Wednesday, September 12, 2018. 1,615 likely 2019 General Election voters participated in the survey, and the numbers are weighted to match the expected turnout demographics for the 2019 General Election. The Margin of Error for this survey is +/-2.5% with a 95% level of confidence.

We didn’t poll the state’s congressional races, because as yet there is no evidence a single one will be remotely competitive. Instead we focused on next year’s gubernatorial race and this year’s Secretary of State race.

And the results are as follows…

President Trump’s approval rating is +10 statewide, with 51 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval. He checks in with at least 53 percent approval in every congressional district in the state save Cedric Richmond’s CD-2, where he’s underwater by a 27-64 count. Trump is strongest in the suburban New Orleans CD-1, where he boasts a 58-35 number, and in the Southwest Louisiana-based CD-3 (Clay Higgins’ district), where he’s even better at 59-35. In Ralph Abraham’s CD-5 Trump is similarly strong at 58-34, and in Mike Johnson’s CD-4 he’s at 55-39. In Garret Graves’ CD-6 Trump stands at 53-39.

In Louisiana’s major cities the president’s favorability is weakest. In the New Orleans market he’s just above water at 46-45, while in Baton Rouge he’s ahead just 47-44. And there’s a significant gender gap in the president’s support; male voters give him a thumbs-up by a 60-34 count, whereas with women he’s underwater at 45-47.

Those numbers aren’t a huge surprise, though they’re a little softer than one would think. They suggest Louisiana’s voters are still suffering from political fatigue, especially in tandem with other numbers we found, and therefore it’s tough to get much of a consensus about anything on the stage.

For example, we asked the question about Trump’s tariffs, and whether they’re going to have a positive or negative effect on Louisiana’s economy. That should be a relatively contentious issue. The response: 32 percent said the tariffs are helping the state’s economy, 38 percent said they’re hurting, and 30 percent said they’d make no difference. On the question about Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, which has dominated the news of late, there was a bit more of a definitive answer: 52 percent said Kavanaugh should be confirmed, while 33 percent oppose him and 15 percent have no opinion.

One would expect Trump’s approval ratings would be the inverse of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, but they aren’t. So far Edwards has managed to earn what can best be described as the indifference of Louisiana’s voters.

Edwards holds a 49-36 approval rating as governor in this poll, a nearly identical number to his July approval rating of 49 percent as found by the Morning Consult gubernatorial survey. That number is buoyed by a 72-18 approval rating in Richmond’s CD-2 and a 54-34 score in Graves’ CD-6; he’s a bit less popular elsewhere in the state (41-36 in CD-1, 43-43 in CD-3, 41-44 in CD-4 and 43-42 in CD-5). North Louisiana, which was key in Edwards’ 2015 electoral victory, doesn’t look very kind to him at present; the Shreveport area still has him slightly above water 43-42, but he’s in terrible shape (35-50) in Monroe and only a little better (36-46) in Alexandria. Baton Rouge, populated as it is with so many state workers, is an Edwards bulwark at 57-33, as is Lake Charles, where the petrochemical boom still holds and where Edwards sits at 55-27; Lafayette, where the oil and gas industry lies decimated, gives him a 39-49 rebuke.

On the whole, though at +13 Edwards is doing better than one might expect of a Democrat governor of a red state.

Except that doesn’t translate into a quality re-elect number. We polled Edwards against three of his more likely 2019 opponents, and he’s not in a particularly commanding position against any of them.

The most notable potential Edwards opponent is Sen. John Kennedy, who continues to give signals indicating he’s likely to get in the race by the end of the year. Kennedy’s approval numbers are similar, though slightly superior, to Trump’s – he sits at a 54-31 statewide approval number. That figure cuts across most of the state with slight variations: Kennedy is underwater at 38-48 in CD-2, but everywhere else in Louisiana he’s very popular (60-24 in CD-1, 56-30 in CD-3, 55-29 in CD-4, 59-25 in CD-5 and 55-32 in CD-6). And where Edwards is weak in North Louisiana Kennedy is rock-solid – he’s at 53-31 in Shreveport, 61-24 in Monroe and 65-21 in Alexandria. Kennedy is also the reverse of Edwards in Lafayette; he boasts a 61-32 number in that struggling market. Kennedy is softer in Lake Charles, where he’s still in decent shape at 46-29, and he’s in decent shape in Baton Rouge at 49-35 and a bit stronger in the New Orleans market at 52-33.

Those numbers would indicate Kennedy would beat Edwards in a competitive race, and that’s what he does when put against him in our survey.

First, we polled a primary race including Edwards, Kennedy, Abraham and ISC Constructors CEO Eddie Rispone. Abraham and Rispone couldn’t be expected to emerge as major figures in a gubernatorial race just yet, since neither have particularly high name recognition (Abraham’s statewide approval number is 17-19, with 64 percent expressing no opinion, while Rispone is at 6-17, with 77 percent having no opinion), and so it’s little surprise neither register much support as yet. In a four way primary race, our survey found…

John Kennedy: 37%
Ralph Abraham: 8%
Eddie Rispone: 3%
John Bel Edwards: 40%
Undecided: 12%

An Edwards who runs at 40 percent in a primary with three Republicans is an Edwards who will not win. 2019 won’t be like 2015, where the Republican in the runoff is crippled by an old sex scandal everyone knows about.

And true to form, when we asked the question whether Edwards ought to be re-elected or someone new should replace him, someone new wins by a 46-43 count, with 11 percent undecided.

On to the head-to-head races for governor next year. Matched against Kennedy, Edwards’ re-elect number is almost identical to the generic re-elect figure – he loses, 43-47, with 10 percent undecided. If you go by the rule that 80 percent of the undecideds usually break against the incumbent, that would put Kennedy over Edwards 55-45 – or a number looking very similar to the last three heavily-contested non-gubernatorial R vs. D statewide races (John Schroder beat Derrick Edwards 56-44 in last year’s special election for Treasurer, Billy Nungesser beat Kip Holden 55-45 in the 2015 Lt. Governor race and Jeff Landry beat nominal Republican Buddy Caldwell, who was largely still thought of as a Democrat, 56-44).

The Kennedy-Edwards head to head numbers break down regionally in an interesting way. The only part of the state Edwards wins against Kennedy is CD-2, where he holds a 64-29 advantage. The other districts are either close for Kennedy (he beats Edwards 47-45 in CD-6) or decisively Kennedy’s (he wins 54-33 in CD-1, 49-39 in CD-3, 52-39 in CD-4 and 54-34 in CD-5). Edwards has strength in three markets in the state – he wins a close 45-44 over Kennedy in the New Orleans area, by a 50-43 margin in Baton Rouge and by a more comfortable 47-38 in Lake Charles. Look for the latter to be a major battleground in the event of a Kennedy-Edwards race. In the state’s other markets it’s Kennedy in a blowout – 59-30 in Alexandria, 53-35 in Lafayette, 62-28 in Monroe and even a 51-43 margin in Shreveport.

Should Kennedy not get in, that generic re-elect number still offers trouble for Edwards.

He’s not above 50 in a head-to-head with Abraham, something which was not the case when Mason-Dixon polled that matchup in April. At that point Edwards had a 51-29 advantage over the congressman, but his number drops to 48-35 in our survey. Edwards tops 50 percent in only two congressional districts – CD-2 (69-21) and CD-6 (52-32). Abraham beats Edwards 53-37 in his own CD-5, and appears in striking distance in the rest (Edwards leads 42-31 in CD-1, 44-36 in CD-3 and 43-38 in CD-4).

In our poll, Edwards is barely above 50 percent in a matchup with Rispone, about whom 77 percent of the respondents had no opinion. In that race Edwards wins by a 52-29 margin, but as in the race with Abraham he’s only above 50 percent in two of the state’s congressional districts – CD-2 (73-17) and CD-6 (53-31). In the rest he’s in the 40’s with leads between 10 and 16 points – against a virtually unknown candidate who’s never run for any office before.

The voters are disengaged, according to our poll, but when they are awakened it isn’t likely they’re going to be in a pleasant mood about the governor’s re-election.

That disengagement shows up clearly in the results of our questions about the Secretary of State race, where the respondents offered an astonishingly high 45 percent undecided number. The race is still very much up for grabs, though there are some clear lessons to be drawn from it. Here’s the statewide primary tally…

Kyle Ardoin: 13%
AG Crowe: 7%
Heather Cloud: 8%
Rick Edmonds: 3%
Julie Stokes: 8%
Gwen Collins-Greenup: 6%
Renee Fontenot Free: 10%
Undecided: 45%

Among so large a field you wouldn’t expect a lot of standout numbers breaking the state down by regions, but there are a few interesting data points to discuss. The incumbent Ardoin should be expected to lead the field in CD-6, his home district, and he does – he earns 19 percent to place first ahead of Free’s 13. But he also leads significantly in CD-3 with 17 percent, ahead of Cloud’s 12 percent. At the race’s outset it was surmised that Collins-Greenup being the only black candidate in the race might give her a leg up in making the runoff, and in CD-2 she does place ahead of Free by a 13-11 count, but so far it looks like ethnicity isn’t going to be enough to make her a major factor.

And interestingly, among self-described conservative voters Ardoin has a fairly commanding 18 percent in the poll, which doubles the next-highest number (Cloud’s nine percent). That has to be a disappointment for Crowe (seven percent) and Edmonds (five percent), both of whom have been attempting to position themselves as the conservative standard bearer.

As for Stokes, who had been considered a major factor in the race, it looks like so far her campaign hasn’t really taken off. She polls fairly well in the New Orleans market, where she leads the field with 11 percent (though in CD-1 Crowe actually tops her, 13-12, and Cloud is nearly even with her at 11 percent). Outside of New Orleans, though, Stokes polls poorly – her best showing in congressional districts outside of suburban New Orleans is 8 percent in CD-2 and CD-6. It’s true that Stokes has more money to spend than any other candidate in the race and could well unleash a barrage of TV ads which lifts her above the pack, but whether she has the ability to top Ardoin and get into the runoff, assumedly with Free, is still highly questionable.

Our key takeaway from the poll is that the three conservative brands in the race – Crowe, Cloud and Edmonds – are cannibalizing each other and none can make the runoff so long as they’re all in the race. At present it looks like Cloud has the best upside of the three, which means in order for one of the conservatives to make the runoff our recommendation would be for Crowe and Edmonds to call it quits and endorse her. Take Crowe and Edmonds out of the race and give their voters to Cloud, and she leads the field with 18 percent statewide, which is likely enough to hold off Ardoin and Stokes’ late-race media surges.

As for Free, it’s assumed she’ll make the runoff – but among Democrat voters she only leads Collins-Greenup by a 16-10 margin with 45 percent undecided, and among black voters statewide Free leads by a 15-12 margin with 44 percent undecided. It may be that the Democrat spot in the runoff will depend on which candidate emerges with the cash to buy their way onto the various endorsement ballots which circulate in the black community; if that’s Collins-Greenup rather than Free, she might split the Democrat vote to create an Ardoin-Stokes runoff, or even displace Free altogether as the Democrat in the runoff. It’s still too soon to know how that’s going to turn out.

Finally, our poll has some not-so-great news for Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser. Nungesser, who has had a less-than-terrific year thus far – he engendered the disapproval of many in the state GOP when he appeared by Edwards’ side at what amounted to a pep rally for tax increases back in June, and that came on the heels of his advocating for the relocation of the dismantled statues of Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis to Houmas House Plantation in Darrow, which as it turned out is owned by a cousin of his – looks exceedingly vulnerable to a challenger in 2019. Nungesser is above water as to his approval, but not by a particularly strong amount – he checks in at 33-30, with 37 percent holding no opinion. And on the question of Nungesser’s re-election things get even worse; he’s underwater by a 37-42 count. In CD-1 he’s above water on re-elect by a 45-38 count and he’s barely ahead 40-37 in CD-6; otherwise he loses to a generic opponent. Nungesser is only getting 47 percent among Republicans and 45 percent among conservatives, which are terrible numbers not offset by Democrats he attempted to make peace with in June – he’s down 32-46 with Democrats and 23-53 among liberals in our poll.

All told, no incumbent should feel completely comfortable with the results of this poll. It tells a tale of a public which is inclined to ignore politics even with an election seven weeks away – but when forced to make a choice is likely to throw the bums out once the 2019 races come along.

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