Gov. John Bel Edwards may have won the election, but he has yet to totally win over the hearts and minds of the voting public.
A new statewide poll by Southern Media and Opinion Research found that of 500 likely Louisiana voters who were polled early this month, only 42 percent said Edwards was off to a “good” or “excellent” start, which is the lowest positives for a new governor since previous Gov. Edwin Edwards took office in 1992.
However, only 25 percent of those polled went as far as saying Edwards was doing “not so good” or “poor.” The other 34 percent said they were undecided, which means Edwards is beginning his term with the highest undecided rating of the past five governors.
“It’s not unusual for a governor who was in a controversial election, with low turnout,” said pollster Bernie Pinsonat. “Plus, there’s nothing but bad news out there. We’re in a recession, we don’t have any money. People don’t trust the government.”
A spokesman for Edwards said the governor understands why people are upset with the government.
“Gov. Edwards shares the frustrations of so many Louisianans who did not cause this problem and who are forced to clean up the mess from the previous administration,” said Richard Carbo, an Edwards spokesman. “The hard choices we need to stabilize the budget aren’t likely to win any popularity contests, and even Gov. Edwards doesn’t like them, but with a combination of spending cuts and additional revenue, Louisiana will come out of this stronger than ever.”
More bad news for the governor is that 54 percent of those polled said that they believe the state budget can be balanced without raising taxes, while 38 percent said they do not believe the budget can be balanced without the new revenue.
Of those polled, 59 percent were against a one-cent sales tax increase, but 66 percent said they favored a cigarette tax, and 62 percent favored a beer and spirits tax.
About 50 percent of respondents said they favored a corporate income tax increase, but a majority of those polled said they were against increases to “taxes paid by businesses,” and car rentals. People were overwhelmingly against personal income tax hikes and telephone and cell phone service taxes, with 75 percent and 83 percent of those polled respectively opposing the measures.
Notably, this poll was taken before state forecasters last week increased the state’s midyear budget deficit from $750 million to more than $850 million. It was also before Edwards went on TV to tell the public of the dire budget circumstances that could result in colleges and universities being closed down in the middle of the spring semester because of such a dramatic shortfall. The poll was conducted Feb. 2-5.
To close the historically large budget deficit for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, Edwards is proposing a one-cent sales tax hike and a 22-cent cigarette tax, among other steps.
Pinsonat said voters may be becoming immune to threats that Louisiana’s budget is in a state of emergency.
“It’s been eight years of the sky is constantly falling and there’s never been any catastrophe. Do they believe it?” Pinsonat said. “We were in a $750 million hole last time, and they filled it and no one had to pay any more money.”
The poll also found early support for state Treasurer John Kennedy in the race for the U.S. Senate seat which will be vacated at the end of the year by David Vitter.
The poll floated names of both people who have officially declared and others who are rumored to jump in the race.
Kennedy, a Republican, came in first place with 22 percent of people who said they would vote for him if the election was “today.” Congressman Charles Boustany, a Republican from Lafayette, got support of 10.2 percent of those polled putting him in second, and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle came in third with 9.7. Angelle has not announced he’s running.
Retired Airforce Office Rob Maness, a Republican, got 6.9 percent, Congressman John Fleming, a Republican got 5.5 percent and New Orleans Attorney Caroline Fayard, a Democrat, took 4.2 percent. Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, the only other Democrat polled, pulled ahead of Fayard with 7.2 percent of the support of those polled, despite not declaring his intentions to run.
The poll had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen.