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Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks at the non-partisan Public Affairs Research Council gubernatorial forum held Thursday, April 11, 2019 at Crown Plaza Hotel Baton Rouge. U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham, R-La., took part, but candidate Eddie Rispone had a prior engagement.

This year’s LSU Louisiana Survey didn’t purport to predict the fall gubernatorial election. There were no questions about what voters think of Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards or of his Republican challengers, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto or businessman Eddie Rispone of Baton Rouge.

But the poll of 917 Louisiana adults interviewed from Feb. 15 to March 7 by the Manship School’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs did paint a picture of how potential voters in the October primary feel about various issues that are likely to dominate the debate.

And on that front, it held plenty of good news for Edwards and offered few openings for his critics.

On the global question of whether residents think the state is moving in the right direction, more said yes than no. The margin wasn’t huge, and in fact, the “right direction” contingent made up slightly less than a majority. But the numbers are trending in the right direction for Edwards, who is relying heavily on an argument that conditions have improved since former Gov. Bobby Jindal left behind a $2 billion deficit.

More specifically, the survey found that a number of items on Edwards’ to-do list, as well as his already-done list, resonate.

More than four in five people polled favor raising the minimum wage to $8.50, a proposal that Edwards campaigned on and has tried and failed to push through the Legislature each year. Now he’s trying a new tack, instead proposing to put a $9-an-hour base wage to a public vote.

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The poll clearly suggests that, should lawmakers see fit to do so, it would easily pass. In fact, a much more ambitious idea that nobody has realistically proposed in Louisiana, $15 an hour minimum, still gained majority support.

Support is also overwhelmingly high for a teacher pay raise, the central plank in Edwards’ legislative agenda this spring and a proposal that has also widespread support among Republican lawmakers. Nearly nine in 10 people interviewed said teachers should make more, and 63 percent even said that they’d be OK with higher taxes to fund a raise — a proposal that’s not currently on the table.

As for the accomplishments the governor is running on, two of the biggest drew high marks in the poll.

Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, Edwards’ very first move, has support from 76 percent of those polled, including 57 percent of Republicans.

And criminal justice reform aimed at reducing Louisiana’s sky-high incarceration rate got a thumbs-up from 70 percent, including a majority of independents and Republicans. The numbers in these groups have grown over the past year, which may be due to the fact that President Donald Trump forcefully backed similar legislation in Congress recently.

Nobody likes paying taxes, but it seems that residents don’t feel all that overburdened. Nearly half think the state’s sales tax is too high. That’s an increase from 32 percent in early 2016, which makes sense given that the Republican-majority Legislature and Edwards did increase sales taxes in order to dig the state out of a deep fiscal hole. Forty percent said state income taxes are too high.

And there’s one more area where Edwards has his finger on the state’s pulse. Most of the people polled expressed support for various pro-gun rights measures. While Edwards has embraced Democratic ideas on many fronts, he’s gone out of his way to distance himself from the national party on cultural issues such as guns and abortion.

Of course, there are some caveats to offer. The poll is only a snapshot in time, and it carries a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points for results based on the full sample. The campaign is still in its early stages, so voters have yet to be bombarded with ads and messages aimed at framing these issues. While measures of overall opinion are instructive, surveys like this don’t quantify how strongly voters feel about the issues and how important they are in determining their vote. And sometimes, partisanship simply trumps all.

Still, ever since Edwards beat then-U. S. Sen. David Vitter four years ago, some Republicans have been insisting that he’s an outlier in conservative Louisiana.

That’ll be a challenging case to make this fall, when on issue after issue, he appears to be positioned right in the mainstream.


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.