Despite an uptick in unemployment and fretting about the state government’s fiscal problems, Louisiana residents are more optimistic about the state’s future for the first time in years, according to LSU’s annual survey.
The change in perception is not huge — still below a majority — but the numbers show a shift, with more residents willing to express optimism that the state is headed in the right direction.
At least part of the reason, says Michael Henderson, who led the 2015 Louisiana Survey, is all the news about thousands of jobs being created and billions of dollars of corporate investment being made in the near future.
Perceptions about the direction of the state have been slowly improving over the past couple years. But the numbers had gotten so low that maybe they had nowhere to go but up, said Henderson, research director LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, which conducts the annual poll.
“From 2008 to 2013 the general trend was more people saying the state was heading in the wrong direction and fewer people saying it was heading in the right direction,” Henderson said. “In fact, wrong direction out-polled right direction by 14 points in 2013. Today, that gap has vanished.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is term limited and must step down in January, took office in 2008.
Results of the survey indicate that 44 percent of residents believe the state is heading in the right direction, up from 38 percent two years ago. The public is now evenly divided between those who say the state is heading in the right direction and those who say it is heading in the wrong direction: 45 percent.
Since 2003, the Louisiana Survey has tracked trends in Louisiana residents’ attitudes about conditions in the state.
The first takes of the 2015 Louisiana Survey were released Thursday, with additional reports being planned for release during the coming weeks.
LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab conducts live caller interviews on landlines and cellphones. Samples from 980 adult residents across the state were taken. The poll has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.1 percentage points.
But the shift in outlook reflects a change in the way Louisiana residents view business conditions. The survey showed that about a quarter of those polled said business conditions are better than a year ago and about the same numbers say they are worse. While these responses do not reflect overwhelming economic optimism, they do reflect a rising sense that the state’s economy is improving, Henderson said.
This is surprising, he said, given that the state’s unemployment rate also is rising.
Another part of the reason for renewed optimism is in the numbers themselves. People in the southwestern part of the state, where much of the new development is targeted, told the LSU pollsters that things are getting better, driving up the statistic.
The Baton Rouge area showed the most optimistic view of the state’s business conditions. The bulk of respondents from the New Orleans area found the conditions are about the same, according to the survey.
And LSU found a large shift towards optimism among voters who registered without party affiliation, Henderson said. Eleven percent more “independents” felt the state was progressing in the right direction than were counted last year.
Republicans showed a slight increase, but Democrats remained as pessimistic in this year’s survey as they have in the past.
“The Democrats are locked in and they don’t have a very optimistic view of the direction the state is taking,” Henderson said. “But I think that’s a reflection of the administration. They’re not keen about who is running the state.”
Louisiana residents once again see education and the economy as the chief priorities for the state to address, he said. A quarter of the state’s residents name education as the most important problem facing Louisiana, and about another 23 percent say it’s the economy.