More African-Americans, more women, more of the elderly and fewer Democrats are eligible to vote later this month than in the last governor’s race.
The number of black registrants has increased 5 percent to more than 905,000 compared to about 860,000 in 2011, while white voters remain about 64 percent of total registered voters, according to Secretary of State’s Office voter registration records.
Female voters have increased by about 34,000 — standing at 1.59 million of the state’s 2.89 million registered voters. Women account for 55 percent of registered voters.
Voter registration records also show that white voters continue to abandon the Democratic Party.
Republicans are gaining, but more and more voters are choosing to be unaligned with either of the major political parties. The Other Party, or no party, bloc is outpacing the GOP in new registrants, gaining black, white and “other race” voters.
Historically, chronic voters — the ones who reliably show up at the polls almost every election — have been older, white and skew conservative. How the ongoing shifts in voter registration translate into people who actually go to the polls is the question candidates in all seven contested statewide races are pondering.
Nine candidates are running for governor. Four of them have raised more than $1 million and are considered major candidates: Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, of Baton Rouge, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie, are all Republicans. The only major Democrat in the race is state Rep. John Bel Edwards, a legislative leader from Amite.
Early voting begins Saturday and continues until Oct. 17, with the exception of Sunday. The primary will be held on Oct. 24, and the expected runoff between the top two vote-getters for governor will be on Nov. 21.
The state’s electorate has trended toward Republicans during the past three decades — a move that picked up steam after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. He has been particularly unpopular among the majority of Louisiana voters. Republicans now hold all offices elected statewide, majorities in both the state House and Senate, and all but the one congressional seat that was specifically designed to group together as many black voters as possible.
Since Reconstruction ended in the late 1870s, the Democratic Party in Louisiana has had the most registered voters. As late as 1978, Democrats made up 90 percent of Louisiana’s registered voters. By 2011, though, the Democratic majority was gone.
Democrats still hold a plurality — 46 percent of the 2.89 million voters who will be allowed to participate in this month’s election. Republicans number 28 percent, and 26 percent of the electorate have signed up with minor parties — like the Libertarians or the Greens — or with no party affiliation at all. They’re called “Other” in official parlance, and their numbers have increased by 2.5 percent since the 2011 governor’s race.
Part of the reason for Other Party growth relates to Louisiana’s open primary system that allows voters in state elections to choose any candidate, regardless of political affiliation, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said. So voters don’t really have to choose a party when they register. But there’s also “a frustration with both major parties,” he said.
“The big story is unaffiliated voters and where they are going to go and if they are going to go,” Schedler said. “Do they stop voting, or do they go express their frustration at the ballot box?”
History shows that voters who didn’t sign up with either party are less likely to go to the polls.
In last fall’s congressional primary, slightly more than half of the state’s registered voters — 51.5 percent — participated. But only 35.7 percent of the voters not aligned with a major party bothered with casting a ballot. That compares to nearly two-thirds — 61.3 percent — of registered Republicans and slightly more than half — 54.4 percent — of Democrats.
And in December’s runoff, the number of voters going to the polls dropped off more, to 43.6 percent total statewide — 52 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of Democrats and 27.6 percent of Others. Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy easily ousted three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in that election.
A candidate who figures out how to motivate that slumbering voter segment could very well change Louisiana politics, said Albert Samuels, a political scientist at Southern University.
“On one level that would create some opportunity” for candidates, Samuels said.
But voter turnouts have been generally poor in October primaries — 49 percent in 1999 and 37.4 percent in 2011.
“The hard-core voter is still engaged,” former Secretary of State Al Ater said. But the unaligned voter is sending a signal to the major parties: They are tired of partisan politics.
“They are saying, ‘We don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican. We are much more interested in ideas and solutions,’ ” Ater said.
Voters over the age of 55 now account for 1.1 million, or 38 percent, of the state’s registered voters. The elder demographic grew 10.7 percent since 2011, while the overall voter registration total grew 1.7 percent over the same time period.
LSU political science professor Robert Hogan said that’s the audience the Republican gubernatorial candidates — Vitter, Dardenne and Angelle — are pursuing. To some extent, Democrat Edwards is courting conservatives, too. All espouse pro-life, pro-gun beliefs and promote family values.
“I don’t think they are doing a lot to appeal to the true independent or moderate voter,” Hogan said.
Unlike on a national level, where candidates without previous government experience are leading the polls in the Republican presidential contest, the four best-funded candidates for Louisiana governor all have significant public service portfolios.
Their “throw the bums out” rhetoric is focused more on the unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal. They all talk about reforming the state’s budget and taxation policies to get the state on more solid fiscal ground, though without offering specific, concrete plans.
Vitter campaigns the way he has since he started running against Democrats on the national level, trying to tie his opponents, even Republicans, to President Obama and Democratic policies in any way possible, Hogan said — a tactic that plays well with conservatives.
“Vitter is one of those politicians who understands how to push the button of his core constituency,” he said.
Vitter won re-election linking his Democratic opponent U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon to the president, overcoming a 2007 admission to a “very serious sin” after his phone number appeared on the list of a Washington escort service.
“That was easy. It’s not so easy this time,” Southern University professor Samuels said, noting that the issue of Vitter’s “sin” is coming up again and again in governor’s forums, as well as in casual talk among voters about the gubernatorial campaign.
A higher percentage of eligible women are registered to vote than are men — 97.7 percent of white females and 96.4 percent of black females. By comparison, 81.2 percent of all the state’s white males over the age of 18 and 78.1 percent of the black men have registered to vote, according to state election officials.
Women also are more likely to cast ballots. In the last presidential race, 65 percent of male voters participated compared with 70 percent of female voters. In last October’s congressional elections, 52.5 percent of female voters participated compared to 50.4 percent of males.
All of Vitter’s opponents are wooing the women’s vote.
Dardenne has a “Women for Jay” group and notes his lifetime achievement award for efforts to combat domestic violence. In a recent ad, Dardenne promises an initiative to collect past due child support.
Angelle and Edwards have featured their support for women’s issues, such as equal pay for equal work, in their campaign ads and stress strong marriages.