Louisiana voters view Republican David Vitter as the candidate with the best experience to be the state’s next governor, but also the candidate most likely to continue the policies of unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal, according to a new poll.
Meanwhile, Democrat John Bel Edwards is seen as the candidate who is most trustworthy and most likely to put partisan politics aside for the good of the state.
The nonpartisan poll, which was conducted by Ron Faucheux, of Clarus Research Group, last week for The Advocate/WWL-TV, found Vitter, currently Louisiana’s senior U.S. senator, as the most polarizing candidate in the race.
About 45 percent of voters view Vitter favorably, while 44 percent view him unfavorably.
Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne was viewed favorably by 43 percent of likely voters surveyed, compared with 15 percent who viewed him unfavorably.
Edwards and Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle each polled favorably among 39 percent of those tested, while Angelle’s unfavorability was at 16 percent and Edwards’ at 15 percent.
Faucheux said it was surprising that nearly half of voters surveyed said they don’t know enough about Angelle, Edwards or Dardenne to even feel comfortable ranking them favorably or unfavorably a month out from the Oct. 24 primary.
“While nearly 90 percent of voters know enough about Vitter to form an opinion of him, fewer than six out of 10 voters know enough about Edwards, Dardenne and Angelle to form opinions,” Faucheux said.
Because of that, he said, Vitter has less opportunity for growth in the final weeks of the campaign, while the other three could woo some of the people who have not yet made up their minds. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, as expected, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a Nov. 21 runoff.
The Advocate/WWL-TV poll found Vitter and Edwards leading in the Oct. 24 primary — tied at 24 percent each. Angelle trails at 15 percent, followed by Dardenne at 14 percent. The poll was conducted Sept. 20 through Sept. 23 and interviewed, live by telephone, 800 likely voters, 53 percent of whom were women, across Louisiana. The margin of error is 3.46 percent.
In hypothetical head-to-head runoff scenarios, each of the other three major candidates beats Vitter, once considered the front-runner to become the next governor. But Faucheux noted the challenge faced by Dardenne and Angelle moving forward.
“As long as Dardenne and Angelle split the votes of Republican voters who have doubts about Vitter, as they do now, without picking up enough Democratic or independent votes to compensate, they will lose their chance at runoff berths,” Faucheux said.
The poll found mixed reactions to the attacks that have been lobbed in recent weeks as the campaign has heated up.
Vitter, Angelle and Dardenne have all been hit with negative ads on television. The anti-Vitter ads, sponsored by the Louisiana Water Coalition, have focused heavily on his 2007 prostitution scandal, while Dardenne has been accused of voting to increase taxes and Angelle has been slammed for serving in the administrations of Jindal and his predecessor, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
Based on the likely voters surveyed, 60 percent said a candidate’s past vote for tax increases would have no impact on who they vote for. Sixty-nine percent said formerly serving under Blanco and Jindal would have no impact.
But 44 percent of respondents said a candidate’s connection to prostitution would cause them to vote for someone else. That includes 46 percent of women surveyed and 37 percent of Republicans.
“Vitter needs to better define his candidacy and build on public perceptions that he is a strong, experienced and effective leader,” Faucheux said.
Despite repeated rounds of budget cuts that have drastically reduced state funding for higher education, the poll found a clear majority of voters — 58 percent — say they would rather elect legislators who will hold down taxes by making budget cuts. Thirty-one percent said they would rather elect legislators who will increase some taxes to avoid budget cuts.
When all four of the major gubernatorial candidates were pitted against each other on qualities that they possess, Vitter and Edwards each came out on top in several categories.
Vitter was seen as the candidate who has the best experience to be governor (31 percent), who would provide the strongest leadership (27 percent), who is most intelligent (22 percent), who would be most effective in getting things done (25 percent), who would be the best manager of state government finances (20 percent) and who would be most likely to continue Jindal’s policies (42 percent).
Amid an ongoing budget crisis and general dissatisfaction as Jindal’s term winds down and he campaigns for president, each of the four major candidates to replace him has made it a point to distance himself from Jindal’s administration. Vitter has run campaign ads that portray himself as an outsider who will bring change to state government.
But that doesn’t appear to have resonated with voters. When it came to which candidate would be most like the Jindal administration, Angelle, Dardenne and Edwards polled only in the single digits. Edwards was at 4 percent, Dardenne at 6 percent and Angelle at 9 percent.
Edwards was seen as the candidate who is most trustworthy and honest (21 percent), who “cares most about people like you” (24 percent), who would be most likely to bring change to state government (26 percent) and who would put the state’s interests ahead of partisan politics (23 percent).
Angelle was the candidate most often described as “most likeable” (21 percent).