After Gov. Bobby Jindal won re-election last weekend with 66 percent of the vote, some talked about the governor having a mandate.
Sixty-six percent is a big number.
But, before anyone gets too enthused about Jindal’s huge victory margin, a look at some different numbers taken Friday from the secretary of state’s website is in order.
Jindal won by picking up 673,239 of the 1,023,163 votes cast in this year’s governor’s race.
That was the fewest number of voters to elect a Louisiana governor in nearly a quarter century.
The last Louisiana governor elected with fewer votes was Buddy Roemer in 1987, and Roemer’s election was something of a special case.
Roemer got 516,128 votes in the 1987 primary. Roemer led an eight-person field with 33 percent of the vote, followed by then-Gov. Edwin Edwards with 28 percent of the nearly 1.6 million votes cast.
Edwards dropped out of the race, giving the victory to Roemer without a runoff.
Each winner in the ensuing five Louisiana governor elections got more votes than Jindal received this year.
Here’s the rundown by election cycle since 1987 of the winner for governor, the total number of votes the winner received and whether it was in a runoff or primary election:
• 1987: Buddy Roemer, 516,128 votes, primary.
• 1991: Edwin Edwards, 1,057,031 votes, runoff.
• 1995: Mike Foster, 984,499 votes, runoff.
• 1999: Mike Foster, 805,203 votes, primary.
• 2003: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, 731,358 votes, runoff.
• 2007: Bobby Jindal, 699,275 votes, primary.
• 2011: Bobby Jindal, 673,239 votes, primary.
Jindal got two of every three votes cast last weekend. But, three of every four registered voters in the state stayed home or voted for someone else.
Jindal’s vote total last weekend accounted for only 23.6 percent of all registered voters in the state.
The short lesson here is that Jindal’s re-election bid did not excite voters to turn out.
Kirby Goidel, an LSU mass communications and political science expert, said the lack of competition in this year’s race kept down voter turnout.
As a result, Goidel said he’s “not sure how much stock to put in the number of votes cast for Jindal.”
Goidel said research on the topic suggests that many of the nonvoters would have supported the winning candidate and that if the nonvoters had gone to the polls, the outcome would have been the same.
But, in low-turnout races, Goidel said, a “substantial proportion” of voters don’t go to the polls “because they don’t like any of the candidates.”
Goidel said it’s difficult to call Jindal’s victory a mandate.
“This is a reflection of an uncompetitive race and the absence of a clear policy agenda,” Goidel said. “If this is a mandate, what is it a mandate for?”
Here’s another run of numbers of interest.
When Jindal ran for governor in 2003 and lost, he got 676,484 votes. As noted, his total in 2007 was 699,275 and this year it was 673,239.
In other words, Jindal has run statewide three times and didn’t crack 700,000 votes.
One could speculate that Jindal’s hard-core base of support is in the 670,000 to 700,000 voter range.
In November 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama received 782,989 votes in Louisiana. (True, Republican contender John McCain’s 1.1 million votes in Louisiana gave him a substantial margin of victory here.)
Comparing Obama and Jindal vote totals from different elections is, of course, comparing apples and oranges.
But it’s interesting.
What this means is certainly open to interpretation.
Jindal won by a landslide of a very small number of voters he managed to get to the polls on election day.
A tremendous number of registered voters — more than 76 percent — refused to vote for him or didn’t like him enough to turn out on election day.
What kind of mandate is that?
Carl Redman is executive editor
of The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.