With the high-end estimate of 50 percent turnout for this weekend’s election looking doubtful after early voting, analyst Bernie Pinsonat told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that things might be worse. “The public is uninterested,” he said of the governor’s race. “As bad as I’ve ever seen it.”
He talked after final numbers were available from the weeklong period of early voting. Although that option has been growing in popularity, about 14,000 fewer voters participated in early voting that ended late Saturday than did in the November congressional elections — the last big primary election in the state.
When early voting ended, 222,162 of Louisiana’s 2.89 million voters had cast their ballots, only 7.6 percent. Based on those numbers and historical trends, Secretary of State Tom Schedler predicts voter turnout of between 45 and 50 percent, “somewhere in the 47 to 48 percent range.”
But Schedler and Pinsonat noted that undecideds in the polls might opt not to vote in a year in which political excitement has been lacking. “Could we hit 40 percent? It’s possible,” Pinsonat said.
Outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal is unpopular, as has been amply documented over several years in the Southern Media and Opinion Research polls conducted by partners Pinsonat and Buster McKenzie. But that appears to be about the perception of neglect rather than policy, although the attempts to close hospitals and other state institutions have taken a toll.
Even as lawmakers generally backed Jindal over eight years, the governor’s unpopularity has not rubbed off that much. “You are not going to see many incumbents (in the Legislature) defeated,” Pinsonat said.
Although negative campaigning might turn off some voters, the late-blooming race has not allowed any candidates to develop a positive following, certainly not to the extent that governors of the past — Mike Foster with his welding helmet, Buddy Roemer as revolutionary — achieved with image-making, Pinsonat said.
If Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter face a runoff, the latter has the advantage in what Pinsonat described as a 60/40 state — with the former having to not only turn out African-American voters but poach among conservatives, who have generally given the GOP majorities in the past few years. Not a single statewide elected official is a Democrat.
“That’s the challenge John Bel Edwards faces,” Pinsonat said.
At the same time, Vitter’s harsh attacks on fellow Republicans Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne might make party unity difficult to obtain. “That’s Vitter’s challenge, put it all back together,” Pinsonat said, “after breaking it all up” in the primary fight.
As Pinsonat noted, anything is possible in a Louisiana election, and the four major candidates are campaigning until the last bell on Saturday night.