After last year’s elections and before this fall’s races start, it’s a good time to take a fresh look at Louisiana’s electorate.
There are now three million registered voters in the state. Women account for 55 percent of the total — two points higher than nationally. Forty-four percent of Louisiana’s voters are under 45 years old, and 21 percent are 65 and older.
Louisiana mostly votes Republican in statewide and federal elections, but it still has more registered Democrats (1.3 million) than Republicans (900,000). Nearly 800,000 voters are independents or with third parties.
Looking at political punch — East Baton Rouge Parish is first with 286,000 voters, representing 9.6 percent of the state’s electorate. Jefferson Parish is second with 272,000 (9.1 percent), and Orleans Parish is third with 257,000 (8.6 percent). St. Tammany Parish has moved into fourth place with 170,000 voters (5.7 percent).
While Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by 20 points in Louisiana — marking the fifth straight time our state has voted Republican in a presidential election — New Orleans has remained solidly Democratic. In fact, Hillary Clinton received a higher percentage of the vote in New Orleans (81 percent) than she did in New York City (79 percent), and only a point less than in Boston (82 percent).
Clinton carried two other populous parishes: East Baton Rouge, by nine points, and Caddo, by five points. But Trump won Jefferson by 14 points, St. Tammany by 51 points, Rapides by 33 points, Ouachita by 25 points, and Lafayette and Calcasieu by 34 points each.
A big factor shaping voter rolls has been the population displacement that resulted from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the months after the storm, there were many predictions — often wrong — about the state’s future voter composition.
Let’s see exactly what’s happened.
Since Katrina, Louisiana’s electorate has grown by five percent, gaining 149,000 voters. But four hard-hit New Orleans area parishes have all lost voters. Orleans is down 14 percent; Jefferson, two percent; St. Bernard, 40 percent; and Plaquemines, 16 percent.
Two heavily-populated parishes gained voters at least in part because of migration from hurricane-damaged communities. St. Tammany’s voting strength went up 22 percent since Katrina and East Baton Rouge’s has expanded 13 percent.
Looking at racial trends, Louisiana now has 83,000 more African-American voters than it did before Katrina. Whites have also increased, by 30,000, and other races are up 36,000.
The day before Katrina hit, 29.8 percent of the state’s electorate was black. Today, that number is 31.1 percent.
New Orleans now has the same amount of white voters that it had before Katrina —91,000. But black voters have dropped by almost 44,000, from 190,000 to 146,000. Voters of other races have increased from 19,000 to 20,000.
Pre-Katrina, more than 63 percent of New Orleans voters were black, and 30 percent were white. Today, 57 percent are black, and 35 percent are white.
East Baton Rouge Parish has lost about a thousand white voters, but gained 31,000 blacks and almost 4,000 voters of other races. Before Katrina, 37 percent of the parish’s voters were black, and now it’s 43 percent.
Jefferson Parish has lost 25,000 white voters since Katrina, but gained 11,000 blacks and 7,000 voters of other races. Blacks are now nearly 26 percent of its electorate, up from 21 percent.
The white voter count in St. Bernard Parish is half of what it had been before the storm, but the parish’s share of black voters has increased from seven percent to 19 percent.
St. Tammany Parish has added more than 22,000 white voters and 5,000 black voters since Katrina. While blacks make up only one-tenth of its electorate, St. Tammany has nearly as many white voters as does Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and St. Charles Parishes combined.
If demography is destiny, these numbers give us a glimpse into Louisiana’s future.
Speaking to a class at Loyola University’s Institute of Politics in the late 1970s, Richard Scammon, a former U.S. Census director, advised students to “marinate yourself in the data” when studying elections. That was good advice.
Before anyone can understand the politics of Louisiana — or any place, for that matter — knowing who and where the voters are is an illuminating first step.
Ron Faucheux is a political analyst, author and pollster. He publishes LunchtimePolitics.com, a daily newsletter on polls. He also runs Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan survey research firm that has worked for The Advocate and WWL-TV.