With the 2019 Louisiana gubernatorial election being a critical turning point in Louisiana’s history, we will be periodically polling Louisiana’s voters to check on the status of the race. And our July survey, the first of what we anticipate will be monthly polls of the race, confirms many of the assumptions which we’ve carried through the early stages of the campaign – and explodes a few of them.
We’re probably not going to make too many friends with the two Republican campaigns with the results of this poll, but hopefully it serves as a bit of a wake-up call for them. Below are two main observations.
REPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES HAVE NOT BEEN EFFECTIVE IN DEFINING JOHN BEL EDWARDS TO DATE
Gov. John Bel Edwards has 88 percent name identification, and our survey finds he’s sitting on an incredible 57 percent approval rating – he’s up 73-17 among Democrats and 51-31 with independents. Worse, Edwards is only down 41-48 among Republicans.
And Edwards is catching 26 percent of the GOP vote against Ralph Abraham and 29 percent against Eddie Rispone. He’s at or above 50 percent with independents against both.
Now, the election isn’t for another two and a half months, and voters aren’t engaged yet. It’s not the end of the world. There are lots of messaging opportunities for Abraham and Rispone to educate and persuade voters in a red state that Louisiana’s Democrat governor is not one of them.
And Edwards is still not out of the mid-40’s in the primary, nor is he above 50 in head-to-heads against either Republican.
But it’s frustrating, and frankly disheartening, that this work even needs to be done. We should not be in a position where better than two in five Republican voters are satisfied with Louisiana having one of the four or five worst state economies in the country, with the oil and gas industry flat on its back here, construction down the tubes and the better part of 100,000 more people moving out than moving in amid an orgy of tax increases and government spending. That is completely ridiculous.
What it tells us is one of the most damning problems we have in this state is low expectations. If John Bel Edwards’ record, as awful as it is, is good enough to satisfy Republican voters, then perhaps it’s unrealistic to ever expect this state to rise from the bottom.
That 62 percent of the survey respondents said Louisiana is on the right track, which is a higher number than we’ve seen but does reflect a more positive trend than one would expect given how the state compares to its neighbors, probably has a lot to do with the perception of the national economy and direction under President Trump, who scored very well in this poll. It’s perplexing that so many of the respondents don’t differentiate between national performance and the state’s performance – which wouldn’t seem like so hard a thing to do. One might conclude this has something to do with the fact that nearly 80 percent of the people in Louisiana were born and raised here, and therefore might not be as exposed to how things are working in other places as they might be.
And it’s also worth mentioning that Edwards has been able to hide under the skirts of Louisiana’s mainstream media for four years, which does have an effect. A good example of this was his having trashed Trump last week on his monthly radio show over the president’s attacks on Ilhan Omar and the other three left-wing loons in Congress who have made so much news lately. When we heard Edwards compare the president to lunch-counter segregationists of yore we figured it was the end of his support among conservative and moderate white voters in the state, and before it’s all said and done we still think it will be.
But one day later Multi-Quest went into the field and found 41 percent of Republicans approving of Edwards. That does not compute.
Except it does, because other than an Advocate article Thursday on Edwards’ anti-Trump attacks, virtually no mainstream media in Louisiana picked up the story. None of the national media, even conservative media, picked up on it. It went nowhere. Radio silence. Which tells us that 41 percent of GOP voters probably had no idea what Edwards had said.
This is a problem, but it’s also an opportunity. There is now audio available to the public of John Bel Edwards trashing Donald Trump as a racist. Unless both the Abraham and Rispone campaigns are staffed with complete incompetents, that audio will have been heard by every voter in Louisiana by October. And then we’ll see how many of that 41 percent still think Edwards is swell.
NAME RECOGNITION IS TOO LOW FOR ABRAHAM, WAY TOO LOW FOR RISPONE
We’ve held back on saying this, but we might as well put it out there now – for as much money as Eddie Rispone has to spend in this race, not having thrown a half-million dollars into a radio, TV and outdoor campaign to do biographical ads and raise his name ID is absolutely inexplicable and makes us question whether his strategy can work.
Rispone has told people his name ID will be close to Edwards’ by the time qualifying rolls around. He’s up on TV today with a million-dollar ad buy and the campaign says now that they’re up on TV they aren’t coming down. That’s great, and it’s what you should do if you’ve got a lot of money. But we’re less than 90 days before the election, and less than that before early voting starts and Rispone is operating at a 12-24 approval-disapproval score, with 64 percent, just under two out of three, voters having no idea who the hell he is.
That’s nuts, frankly. You’ve got $13 million to spend and your name ID is worse than Gary Landrieu’s this close to the post?
Abraham’s name ID is better, at 51 percent. But that’s still not a great number. It’s somewhat encouraging for him that he has less disapproval (20 percent) at 51 percent name ID than Rispone has (24 percent) at 36. There is something about Louisiana voters which isn’t very friendly to rich capitalists, a hangover from Huey Long’s day perhaps, which Rispone needs to fight off and probably should have gotten started with that project earlier – how he’s a poor boy from North Baton Rouge made good who never lost those working-class values and feels a duty to help his fellow Louisianans rise, and how Edwards merely gives them crumbs from the fat-cats’ table as he robs the people at the state capitol.
We’re concerned Rispone’s campaign so far, which focuses on tying him to Trump, is going to end up backfiring against this old Longite tendency among the state’s voters. Trump is popular in Louisiana not because he’s a business guy with a lot of money but because he’s entertaining and bombastic and has the common touch. If Rispone’s message doesn’t convey that he can do the old Edwin Edwards un de nous autres thing as well, he runs the risk of being the next John Georges – who spent $13 million on a campaign that went nowhere.
Abraham’s message so far isn’t the problem. It’s his volume. With $1.3 million in the bank he doesn’t have enough fuel to get that message out – he’s doing some good things with earned media and he’s won some news cycles, but none of that gets you anywhere when media coverage is sparse and voters aren’t engaged. Abraham needs to raise a lot of money, fast, because he’s going to have to buy his way in front of the voters and it’s clear he isn’t going to get the amount of coverage from the state’s news media to get that message out. And if Edwards has this many Republican voters who are willing to buy what he’s selling, we can’t just assume the natural ceiling of a typical Democrat politician in Louisiana applies to him as it should – which means the $10 million-plus war chest the governor will have might actually work to attract Republican support he has no business getting.
Most of all, though, these numbers are a pretty good indication that Rispone needs to dump a good chunk of his war chest into some of the most pointed attacks possible against Edwards. While he has a major deficit against Abraham, who’s sitting at 35 percent in the primary, Rispone’s best opportunity to grow from the six percent at which he currently sits might be to steal the 23 percent of the Republican vote which is currently, inexplicably supporting Edwards in the four-way primary. It’s inexplicable enough that these people are going with Edwards in head-to-head matchups against Abraham and Rispone; that they’d choose him in a four-way race is downright bizarre. You’d have to figure that support isn’t very solid and can be peeled off fairly quickly.
As Rispone has the biggest war chest of the three major candidates, he has money to burn on that project. He needs to tear Edwards down with GOP voters and then with independents. Doing that insures there will be a runoff and that Edwards can’t get to 50 in that runoff, both of which are prerequisites to victory for Rispone as well as for Abraham.