With slightly more than a week left before the election, only two Louisiana voters in every five are paying close attention to the governor’s race, an LSU survey determined.
About the same number, maybe a little more, told pollsters that they’re not really following news about the gubernatorial candidates too closely. Another 20 percent are not paying any attention at all, according to the “Election Report 2015,” conducted by LSU Public Policy Research Lab for the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at the Manship School of Mass Communication.
The findings that voters still have not engaged underlines estimates that less than half the state’s registered voters will cast ballots in the Oct. 24 primary – a fairly low rate participation for a wide-open governor’s race.
“This is going to be a low wattage election cycle,” said Baton Rouge pollster John M. Couvillon, president of JMC Analytics and Polling. “I’m seeing undecideds in 20s and 30s, usually they’re in the teens by this point.”
LSU’s findings fit in with the numbers he’s seeing. Couvillon calculates, based on early voting turnout and historical trends, that turnout will be about 42 to 48 percent. Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who usually waits until early voting ends before doing his estimates, is saying turnout could fall between 45 and 50 percent of the voters.
“I think voter frustration on the national level with Congress and its gridlock has trickled down to the state level and we’re seeing real evidence of it in this year’s Gubernatorial Election,” Schedler said in prepared statement after reviewing LSU’s findings. “Voters are bombarded with lots of negative ads and mailers and many just shut down because their lives are busy and they feel mislead by politicians in general.”
While the percentage of the population is paying more attention than they did in March – 25 percent then, 39 percent now – interest in the down ballot state races is much lighter.
Only 29 percent are voters following the elections for state legislature, while 17 percent and 15 percent are following news about the elections for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Lieutenant Governor, respectively.
“What it says,” according to Michael B. Henderson, who as the Lab’s research director handled the actual polling, “is that more people are paying attention (than in March), maybe not as many as you would like, only 40 percent, but the trend seems to be that more voters are becoming engaged … It is not a lot still.”
At about the same point during last fall’s U.S. Senate race about 50 percent of Louisiana voters were paying attention.
As voters become more engaged, they are recognizing the candidates better and forming opinions about them. The name recognition factors of Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, R-Breaux Bridge, and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, while well known in state government circles, were not as widely recognized in the general public as Republicans Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, of Baton Rouge, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie, both of whom have higher profile jobs.
“Opinions about these candidates were relatively soft through the summer,” Henderson said Thursday. All the candidates saw their recognition and favorability numbers go up, but they also saw their unfavorability numbers rise as well.
Henderson said the four best-financed gubernatorial candidates are running commercials at about the same rate as previous elections.
“If you’re measuring the number of commercials, you’d say, ‘Yeah, they’re on track’,” Henderson said. “So, what we’re seeing is voters’ opinions of the candidates are evolving.”
But the spots have been negative and, with the exception of an attack on Edwards by the Republican Governors’ Association, have all been the three GOP candidates going after one another.
That seems to be reflected in the growth in unfavorable opinions among the Republicans, but not Edwards, the Democrat.
Dardenne and Angelle received higher unfavorable ratings, with the lieutenant governor’s going up from 8 percent to 15 percent and the PSC commissioner’s “unfavorables” rising from 5 percent to 13 percent.
But Vitter continues to have the highest unfavorable rating, 41 percent, as well as the highest favorable ranking, at 30 percent.
The survey points out that Vitter’s unfavorable numbers are driven largely by Democrat and Democratic leaning independents, who probably weren’t going to vote for him anyways.
His support among Republicans is much higher, 15 percent more who like him than don’t.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that Vitter is losing voters and it doesn’t translate directly into votes,” Henderson said. And the number also doesn’t mean much for the runoff when presumably one Republican candidate squares off with Edwards, the Democrat.
Vitter has the most favorable opinions among voters with a high school degree or less, 48 percent; Protestants, 47 percent; and people making $100,000 or more annually, 41 percent.
His highest unfavorables are expressed by Democrats, 47 percent; African-Americans, 42 percent; college educated, 49 percent; and women, 43 percent.
Democratic voters, 30 percent, have a favorable opinion of Edwards, as do 26 percent of the African American voters. But 15 percent of voters who identified themselves as Protestants, other than Baptists, held unfavorable opinions of Edwards.
Dardenne’s numbers indicate he is most unfavorable among Republican and GOP leaning voters, 31 percent; and among people making $25,000 to $49,999 per year, 22 percent. His strongest favorable numbers are among Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independents, 47 percent; and women, 24 percent.
Angelle is most popular with Catholics, 35 percent; and women, 27 percent. The populations who view Angelle most negatively include voters without party affiliation, 17 percent; with college degrees, 18 percent; and people over the age of 65, 17 percent.
The pollsters interviewed 893 randomly selected adults from around the state by cell phone and landline from Sept. 17 to Oct. 11. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percent.
Pollster Couvillon said multiple factors play a roll in the ebb of voter participation, particularly when compared to earlier years. None of today’s candidates, for instance, are as colorful – from Earl Long to Edwin Edwards to David Duke – as they were back in the day. And the math is different, he said.
In the 1992 presidential election had a 78.7 turnout of Louisiana’s 2.27 million registered voters, Couvillon pointed out. In 2000, the turnout had dropped to 63.4 percent of 2.78 million voters.
During the intervening eight years, registration requirements were eased and pushed, adding 510,661 new voters, many of whom apparently did not participate.