With two out of three respondents approving of John Bel Edwards’ performance in office, surely it was a happy Christmas at the Governor’s Mansion.

The 65 percent approval rating from the Southern Media and Opinion Research poll is up from May’s 54 percent and outpaced Republican leaders such as U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge and John Kennedy of Madisonville, as well as House Minority Leader Steve Scalise of Jefferson.

In a Republican state, as the single Democratic holder of statewide office, not shabby, and a number that should give pause to GOP strategists who believe that Edwards’ 2015 win against David Vitter was a fluke.


Edwards called the good number a tribute to “the moderate balanced approach that we’ve taken.”

Edwards received positive ratings among 82 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of those who identified as independents and 44 percent of Republicans.

The SMOR poll was based on 500 likely Louisiana voters and conducted by landline and cellphone Nov. 28-30. The margin of error is 4.4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. The poll was funded by SMOR's private subscribers.

These numbers are striking not just because of the Republican dominance in the state but because other findings of the poll were not so positive: It’s tough to be viewed positively when most respondents, 45 percent, said the state is moving in the wrong direction, with only 36 percent saying the right direction.

Respondents were also closely split on whether the state needs new revenues to avoid drastic budget cuts — Edwards’ “moderate balanced” approach — or that the budget can be cut without drastically affecting state services.

Perhaps another interpretation: The SMOR poll results are a tribute to Edwards’ performance outside the State Capitol, more than inside it.

Meaning that the governor’s active presence in the communities he serves may be more of a positive than the results he’s achieved, or not, from the Legislature.

Over his first two years, Edwards faced floods and tornadoes and hurricanes, and tragic incidents like the assassination of police officers in Baton Rouge in July 2016. His sympathetic and sure-footed response to those events may be driving his popularity. Culturally, he is the classic red-state Democrat, a hunter and churchgoer whose Bible on his desk appears to be read and not just seen.

Further, despite the “wrong direction” number, the economy overall is improving and even the oil patch regions of Lafayette and Houma are slowly recovering from the 2014 energy price crash.

Inside the Capitol? Not such an era of good feelings.

The Republican-led House is frequently opposed to Edwards, although the GOP Senate is more “moderate balanced” in its approach. The former haven’t much mattered: Even with significant business tax increases, and a “temporary” sales tax used to balance the crash in the budget left by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, the negatives appear not to have attached to Edwards.

Hard to predict if this dynamic will continue as the budget crunch gets worse, and it certainly will if “moderate balanced” does not persuade the House to fix the state’s broken tax system. A billion dollars in cuts in a state general fund of $9 billion and change will hurt, absent action by the Legislature.

National politics also is an issue going forward: If 2018 is a Democratic year — and President Donald Trump’s approval rating is only 48 percent in the SMOR poll in Louisiana, and low-30s nationally in Gallup — the 2019 governor’s race might not seem like a sure thing for the GOP.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.