Is Louisiana turning blue or maybe even a slightly bluer shade of red?
Color me skeptical, despite a head-turning horse race question from a new Advocate/WWL-TV poll conducted by the Clarus Research Group.
In a decidedly far-fetched hypothetical general election matchup, the 800 voters surveyed Sept. 20-23 gave Democratic former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a slight edge over the state’s once-hugely popular Republican chief executive, Gov. Bobby Jindal. If the election were held today, the poll found, 45 percent would choose Clinton and 42 percent would push Jindal’s button (the poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.46 percentage points).
The idea that Jindal could lose his own state, which last voted for a Democrat when Clinton’s husband won his second term nearly two decades ago, is bound to bring smiles — or perhaps smirks — to the faces of the state’s beleaguered Democrats. Whether it should give them high hopes is another matter.
While juicy, the numbers here say far less about how Louisianians view Clinton and her party than about the depth of their disappointment in Jindal.
Little else in the poll suggests that Clinton could be competitive here next November, despite her strong showing among Democratic primary voters. When asked whether they’d choose Clinton or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the general, just 38 percent picked Clinton, compared with 56 percent for Bush. And she wouldn’t just struggle against a mainstream Republican; the poll found that even Donald Trump would beat her 47 percent to 39 percent.
More importantly for those looking to identify larger trends, little in the poll suggests that the voters’ collective distaste for Jindal carries over into how they feel about his party. Chances are their opinion is shaped more by his behavior than his philosophy, more by the sense that he’s put his presidential ambitions ahead of the state’s best interests than with real disagreement on the big issues.
The poll found that Jindal’s far less popular than any other politician for whom that question was asked. Just 34 percent said they have a favorable view of him, and an embarrassing 62 percent viewed him unfavorably.
But no other Republican mentioned came close; even often-divisive U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who’s hoping to move in once Jindal vacates the Governor’s Mansion come January, is viewed unfavorably by 44 percent — a pretty high figure but nowhere near Jindal’s.
In fact, only President Barack Obama scores somewhat close to Jindal on this measure, with 40 percent saying they like him and 59 percent saying they don’t. Those numbers pretty closely track the results of recent Democrat-versus-Republican elections in Louisiana, which suggests they’re a better indicator of overall patterns than opinion toward Jindal.
And that has clear implications for the governor’s race.
The poll’s results, which echo other recent partisan and candidate surveys, offer some real encouragement for supporters of state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the only major Democrat competing against Republicans Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle in the Oct. 24 open primary. Vitter and Edwards are tied for first place at 24 percent each, the poll found, and would make the runoff if the first round were held today.
More startling is the outcome of the runoff horse race; the poll found that 45 percent would back Edwards and 41 percent Vitter.
Such a result would represent a true sea change in Louisiana politics. It would suggest that voters who normally vote Republican would abandon the party in droves, even after Vitter did everything possible to link Edwards to Obama, as he would surely do.
Sure, Edwards has done a good job so far of distancing himself from the national party, but then, the Republicans have pretty much left him alone while they’ve attacked one another. The runoff would be a whole new ballgame.
And don’t discount the likelihood that voters will check out all their options but then come home to their own team. LSU political scientist Michael Henderson made a good case for this possibility in a recent blog entry that emphasized the importance of “fundamentals” such as party identification in predicting election results.
If nothing else, the poll proves that Jindal’s fortunate that he’ll likely never again appear on a Louisiana ballot, and his many adversaries, both Democratic and Republican, have every reason to gloat.
Whether Jindal’s woes tell us much more about the state’s politics, though, is a very different question. This is one case where it probably really is all about him.