Thursday, 13 August 2015 18:05

Louisiana governor election all about Vitter

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VITTER--CHICKENFrom what the Louisiana State University Public Policy Lab’s latest survey tells us, not only is the 2015 governor’s race all about Sen.David Vitter, but that also it’s going the way he hopes as long as the field remains as is.


The organization today released its information concerning this contest, which probes a number of attitudinal questions but, as by its intent, did not ask voter preferences. Conducted over a considerable time span encompassing two to three months out from the election, about the only things a majority of voters knew were how they evaluated Vitter, what he stood for, that the state was headed in the wrong direction, and that they weren’t paying attention to the contest.

Over three quarters of respondents could give a favorability opinion on Vitter, with three-fifths of them seeing him favorably. By contrast, only half that number could give such an opinion on Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, where over three quarters of them saw him favorably, less than a third of that could opine about Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, whose favorability ratio was about like Dardenne’s, and barely a quarter of that had any opinion about the race’s only Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards, who also had the worst favorability ratio.

This lack of thinking about the candidates is reflected in survey participants’ assessments of candidate ideology. Vitter is seen as the most conservative, but not that conservative, closely followed on this scale by Angelle and Dardenne in that order, with Edwards, despite his party affiliation and voting record in the Legislature, as pretty close to a middling moderate. However, whereas Vitter could be placed by two-thirds of voters, fewer than half felt they could place any of the others, with the most mystery surrounding Edwards. Only in the case of Vitter could more assign him a favorability rating than identify his ideology.

Such widespread vapidity about the candidates comes directly from the lack of interest in the race, where 71 percent admit a minimal amount or none of this, and points to certain explanations and opportunities. Clearly in the case of Edwards, he benefits from being an empty vessel, particularly as over half the sample called themselves conservatives. His campaign strategy seeks to obfuscate his ideology using the recent Democrat playbook of shouting to the rafters conservatism on social issues, adopting the rhetoric of reformism in government management, yet off to the side reassure the left that he will go full bore to expand government, increase spending, and empower special interests. Were he to become more closely defined with his liberal roots, his favorability ratio likely would deteriorate even more as the numbers on both sides of it increase.

While it’s tempting to conjecture that increased definition of Angelle and Dardenne might have the opposite effect, because they are right of center ideologically and carry the best favorability ratios, this ignores that an ability to rate in favorability terms at this point connotes a good chance of voting for or against a candidate. Reviewing Vitter’s number on this account, they tell us that his ceiling appears to be 70 percent as 30 percent dislike him. But of that potential, 45 percent already say they like him, and other opinion polls that almost universally have his numbers doubling up or better on the other two Republicans translates into probably two-thirds of that total like him more than any other candidate. Thus, he’s already got 30 percent of the vote locked in.

In other words, Vitter has far more votes in the hand while Dardenne and Angelle are looking for these in the bush. It may be that of those who haven’t formed an opinion about the pair will do so disproportionately in their favor and think one of them as more favorable than anybody else, but as they start so much farther behind – 16 fewer percentage points for Dardenne and 27 fewer for Angelle than Vitter – things have to break exceptionally their way to have a chance to surpass Vitter.

And, as is becoming increasingly clear, just for one of them. If indeed both Vitter and Edwards already are locked in each at 30 percent (with the latter being an extraordinarily low-information candidate, for by election day he still may have a majority of the electorate unable to rate him in any way, yet because he looks to run as the only Democrat in the field he will have many of these otherwise-ignorant voters vote for him only because of his label), only 40 percent remains up for grabs – if that many. That means one of Angelle or Dardenne must win a huge proportion of the intended voters that in the past month signaled they didn’t know enough about either. Realistically, that is likely to happen only if one voluntarily defers by exiting the contest.

This dynamic could change if another Democrat candidate, particularly a credible black Democrat, enters the race as, particularly in the latter case, this would suck votes from Edwards and relatively improve the positions of Angelle and Dardenne. If a new credible candidate does not emerge nor either GOP also-ran drops out, Vitter, by virtue of these numbers and his campaign’s superior financial position, by far controls this contest.

That’s because he has defined himself in a way significantly more voters like than don’t, and he has the resources to continue that trend while making it difficult for opponents to alter that negatively or to promote themselves positively. Had by now his opponents made much more progress in getting themselves favorably judged by a greater portion of the electorate, there wouldn’t be so much of a pool of voters that they would have to persuade positively against whatever tide he can activate.

Ironically, why they were unable to get further name recognition from a largely detached set of voters in order to combat Vitter is precisely because Vitter is in the contest. Having been relevant in Louisiana politics for a quarter of a century, with over a decade now in a statewide office far more consequential than any of his competitors, he’s has a long time to earn unshakable support from a significant portion of the electorate. For them, they know that Vitter’s in the race, and that’s it, they need not hear nor know more about it. They’re not following it much because their mind is made up – and the same goes for those Democrats who bitterly oppose him, who have the one additional piece of information they need, that there’s a Democrat running against him.

This explains the paucity of election interest and curiosity about the other candidates. Probably for well over half the electorate, all they need or care to know is if Vitter is in it, and additionally for some, knowledge of the presence of credible Democrat. It’s all about Vitter, factors suggest that making the election with its current candidates about him sets it up so he can win it, and he has the resources to do it. Failure of other campaigns to factor in these dynamics assures that he defeats their candidates.

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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 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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