Tuesday, 17 June 2014 08:02
New Poll Places Mary Landrieu in Deep Water
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landrieu-tea-partyHope springs eternal and generals always are fighting the last war. This explains why a number of Louisiana-based observers continue to miss the obvious: that Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu is in deep trouble in her reelection bid, as confirmed by a recent poll.

 This one commissioned by an interest group through a firm that usually conducts polls for Republicans showed GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy leading Landrieu 50-44, significantly putting him at pulling a simple majority of the vote. It continues a trend for months now where the combined vote of all announced Republicans (the two also-rans from the GOP picked up 5 percent of the remainder, which means the pollsters prompted initially undecided respondents to make a choice) exceeds the vote for Landrieu.

But the state’s mainstream media hardly touched the significant breakthrough for Cassidy. It was mentioned briefly by New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Bruce Alpert, who then immediately dismissed it as “it should be taken with a grain of salt” because it “seems to over-represent Republican voters and under-represent African Americans.”

Which only goes to show that Alpert either is lazy or disingenuous. The poll did not claim to be of registered voters in the state, but of likely voters. And using the 2010 Senate election turnout as a model, which actually will underestimate registered Republicans and overestimate registered Democrats given changes in voter rolls from 2010 to now (from Nov., 2010 to Jun., 2014 about 112,000 fewer Democrats and around 39,000 more Republicans), the poll’s breakdown of 50 percent Democrats, 35 percent Republicans matches up favorably with the Nov. 2, 2010 turnout proportions of 52-33. As far racial sampling goes, the poll garnered 71 percent white, 24 percent black respondents while in the 2010 election the ratio was 70:27, slightly off. Even accounting for these small differences, it’s clear: Cassidy has a small but significant lead over Landrieu, confirming the trend.

So Alpert is dead wrong in dismissing the poll other than “it underlines that this will be a very tough race for Landrieu.” But more informed observers also are misdiagnosing the contest, and from their stated reasons because of some mystique of Landrieu as an incumbent who has won tough races before by muting partisan lines.

Yet the data clearly contradict this hypothesis, not just from the polling consistently putting Landrieu behind the combined GOP vote at this stage, but also from the larger dynamics involved. It’s instructive to review Landrieu’s last campaign, where at this point she consistently held a small but significant lead over state Treasurer John Kennedy. Few polls ever put Kennedy at or in the lead, but one did so in July, 2008 which demonstrated the opening was there for him to win if the dynamics went his way.

They did not. Within two months, the fiscal crisis that had been brewing stemming from Democrats pushing through the Community Reinvestment Act with significant later alterations also including some Republican aid came to a head, causing blame to be placed upon the GOP creating a bad electoral environment for it in 2008. At that point for political convenience sake Kennedy may have wished he had stayed a liberal Democrat, which he had run as for the Senate in 2004 but switched parties about a year prior to this election (which did not bring as much benefit to him as perhaps he had hoped since this made him look like an opportunist to some). Further assisting Landrieu was that the candidacy of future Pres. Barack Obama historically pumped up black turnout to an all-time high, surpassing that of white voters, which helpfully spilled over into her campaign.

By contrast, now Landrieu continues to be behind and dynamics are working against her. She will not receive a bonus of voters from Obama; indeed, she will suffer from his deep unpopularity and that of his policies in Louisiana (confirmed in the poll), which is unlikely to change soon enough if ever. Plus, midterm elections tend to have Republicans disproportionately turn out to vote relative to Democrats. In short, in 2008 she held a lead that dynamics would extend into a decent-sized victory; in 2014, she is running behind and dynamics, unless entirely unanticipated events intervene, promise to suppress any chance she has of reversing that situation.

The story has not changed since the beginning of the year: the evidence is that Landrieu has fallen behind and her reelection chances are increasingly troubled. No data nor events have surfaced to suggest otherwise.

Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines

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