Residents pessimistic about Louisiana’s future, doubt government’s ability, survey says _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by Richard Alan Hannon -- Louisiana's official state flag.

Louisiana residents hold a dark view of the state’s future, and they don’t think state government has what it takes to answer the problems, according to LSU’s annual statewide poll released Monday.

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s residents told pollsters that Louisiana is headed in the wrong direction, which is more than at any point since the Louisiana Survey began tracking this opinion in 2003. Last year, the annual poll reported respondents were evenly split over the direction of the state, with about 45 percent saying the state was going the wrong way.

“Although the public mood darkened well before he took office, the shift nevertheless leaves Gov. John Bel Edwards facing an unprecedented challenge. In recent years, the public has tended to be most optimistic when new governors take office,” the 2016 Louisiana Survey stated.

The poll found the pessimistic shift more pronounced among Republicans. However, the opinion of GOP residents began turning even while Gov. Bobby Jindal was still in office.

Democratic residents articulated more hope under Edwards, a Democrat, than under Jindal, a Republican. Still, even their views remain dark.

“Despite their softening mood, Democrats are no more positive today than they were a year ago,” the report stated, adding, “The public’s confidence that Louisiana’s government will effectively deal with the most pressing problems remains low.”

Only about a third of those interviewed said they were “very confident” or “somewhat confident” in state government’s ability to fix things, the survey said.

Again, LSU documented a significant gap between Republicans — 73 percent held negative opinions of state government’s prowess — and Democrats, 49 percent of whom were somewhat more positive, though not a lot.

And it’s not personal finances — as pollsters are repeatedly finding among the national electorate — that are worrisome for Louisiana adults but the state’s economic condition.

In previous years, stability and quality of education tended to lead the list of concerns. The state government budget? Not so much. Last year’s poll found 25 percent worried about education and 7 percent about the budget. This year, a quarter of the population polled by LSU put state government’s spending and revenue-raising practices at the top of the list. Education dropped to 14 percent.

Michael Henderson, who as the Public Policy Research Lab research director oversaw the poll, said the numbers show him that residents have become more aware of the state’s fiscal crisis over the past six months and they have become alarmed by what they’ve learned.

Lawmakers have faced revenue shortfalls for the past eight years, causing deep cuts to state spending for universities and for the health care services on which more than 1 million Louisiana residents rely. But the deficit in this year’s budget, which Edwards inherited in January, and the problems expected for the budget year that begins July 1, are much graver.

After a 25-day special session, which ended last week, legislators were unable to come up with a plan that completely bridged the $900 million or so deficit in this fiscal year’s budget, which still must be balanced by the end of June. Legislators convened another session Monday and will tackle another deficit of about $750 million during the next three months.

Despite the souring mood and growing pessimism, the state’s residents still find the quality of life in Louisiana good. “Just as in 2015, about two-fifths of residents continue to give Louisiana a grade of A or B as a place to live,” according to the responses of questions posed to 1,001 adults during cellphone and landline interviews. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

“This is an area where there is quite a bit of agreement,” Henderson said in an interview. He added that satisfaction with the quality of life in Louisiana is roughly the same across partisan, geographical, racial and other demographic categories. LSU hasn’t studied why, but, anecdotally, Henderson, who grew up in Baton Rouge, says it has to do with family ties and shared cultural factors, such as cuisine, music and traditions.

The survey is conducted annually by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, which is part of the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs. The lab designed the questions and determined how they were asked, then conducted the statistical analysis. Interviews for the survey began two weeks before the special session began Feb. 14 and continued through Feb. 26.

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