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Increasingly hard to argue LA not GOP-majority state

As I have noted previously, people who do demography by trade might be good at getting some numbers but then understanding their political importance is another matter that they often lack training to get completely right. Again, I offer my assistance in this regard to an analysis done of vote totals for the 2007 governor’s contest and legislative contests.

Reviewing these numbers, the analyst argued that because in many legislative districts the vote total of incoming Gov. Bobby Jindal did not exceed that of the winning legislative candidate, that these legislators are “less beholden” to Jindal. Such a contention suffers from both an analytical and theoretical problem.

Analytically speaking, relying on vote totals turns into an apples vs. oranges exercise because of the nature of the blanket primary. This allows primary elections to behave as general elections which created over a dozen gubernatorial candidates, fragmenting the vote. For these purposes, let’s argue practically speaking there were five in the governor’s race: Jindal, his three major competitors who got over 10 percent of the vote, and everybody else as a “field” or “none of the above” composite candidate.

By contrast, the typical legislative contest (where they were: 35 were not contested) had on average about three candidates. Assuming the analysis actually compares only the primary contests and not primary contests to the general election runoff (which makes no theoretical sense since there can’t be “coattails” for a lower-placed office if the higher-placed candidate is not on the ballot), Jindal will have two additional opponents so to speak on average than a legislative candidate, diluting his vote and making difficult to ascribe any substantive meaning to the comparison of winners’ totals.

Theoretically speaking, coattails as a political concept applies only under a pair of conditions, that there are strong party linkages in the political system and that candidates for both higher-placed and lower-placed offices act to acknowledge and factor them into campaigning. Neither condition held in last fall’s elections. Not only did Jindal disavow any attempt to appear as a partner or running mate to candidates (and wisely so, knowing he could not be assured of Republican majorities in both legislative chambers and did not wish to alienate those who won despite his having potentially supported candidates they beat, even as some of them tried to attach themselves to him), but the incredibly weak state and local party system in Louisiana would make any coattail effect slim to begin with. (National elections, however, are another matter since the national parties are so much stronger.)

So to state there are little in the way of coattail effects by Jindal’s election not only is to state the obvious – no need to crunch numbers on this because the concept simply does not apply in this electoral environment – but also is pointless. The real resources Jindal can use to corral legislative victories will come from his appeals to common promises (along the lines of the Blueprint Louisiana agenda, for example) and to the powers, more informal than formal, of his new office.

(As an aside, some have noted the minor drop in turnout from 2003 to 2007 for the governor’s race and wondered what that means for a Jindal “mandate” in the state. The answer is, nothing, because when factoring out displaced voters – who remained on voting rolls but were nowhere near their precincts on election day – turnout was almost identical between the two elections.)

The analysis also curiously argues that “the state is clearly leaning Republican. But it could go either way.” This assertion flies in the face of accumulated evidence over the past two decades, if not the past two years. From 1900 to 1964, no Republicans served in the Legislature (although a smattering of Populists and independents did). Twenty years ago, there were 17 in the House and five in the Senate. Both numbers have tripled since then, with the House alone up 14 members just from the 2003 elections. Further, two years ago no Republicans served in statewide executive office; now, five of seven do including the first Republican governor since Reconstruction who is a lifelong member of the GOP and defeated was the boss in practice of state Democrats, Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom.

By no means can this “go either way.” The trend clearly favors GOP and the best Democrats can hope for is that it slows rather than continuing its breakneck speed that (from the GOP perspective) at best already has created a Republican majority in statewide politics, at worst makes matters a toss-up. Perhaps this mistaken judgment comes from the wholly erroneous belief, asserted by the analyst, that Republicans made gains because Democrats did not campaign vigorously enough. In fact, the opposite was true: Republicans scored lesser gains because the party has come so far so fast that it could not find enough quality candidates in enough districts while Democrats deliberately fielded a more conservative lineup to try to stem the tide.

Data are useful to inform about the world of politics, but if used without proper conceptualization or not within the correct theoretical context, they don’t.


Mr Turnbow said...

Pretty much every state in the south is trending toward the GOP on the state legislative level except for Arkansas and Alabama.

baton rouge du nord said...

This blog entry answers bad analysis with poor, one-sided analysis. At best, it is wishful thinking.

First, the “real issue Jindal can use to corral legislative victories” is the line item veto, not some blueprint. The local guys get reelected when they bring home the pork. The line item veto can strike pork with surgical precision, but the legislative will is more of a blunt instrument. It takes a lot of force (votes) to do any damage.

So legislators are always beholden to (or at least afraid of) LA’s governor unless the legislative will is overwhelming enough to crush the governor’s legislative agenda. And that sometimes happens to so-called reform governors. We shall see.

You use Bob Odom as proof of the Republicans’ takeover. Please!!!! Bob Odom had more dirt than all of the farmers that supported him. Face it, Odom was seen as a crook. Blanco was seen as incompetent. They are not the paradigm of good Democratic leadership.

Your one-eyed analysis ignores that Landrieu strolled back into the Lieutenant Governor’s spot. And the fact that Buddy Caldwell beat Royal Alexander by an almost 2:1 margin.

There is an anti-incumbent sentiment in politics today. With more Democrat incumbents, that sentiment ought to affect Dem’s disproportionately.

Would Jindal have sailed into the governor’s office so easily had John Breaux decided to run? Probably not. So part of the problem is that the Democrats did not run the right candidate. Part of that problem is that Blanco gummed up the works by not bowing out sooner.

Furthermore, there was only one serious GOP contender for governor. There were several serious Democrat contenders. If “the [GOP] has come so far so fast that it could not find enough quality candidates in enough districts,” it would seem that GOP legislative candidates coat tailing Jindal should have drawn similar percentages to Jindal had they really been riding his coat tails. Something in your analysis does not follow.

The anti-incumbent sentiment probably affects local races less. First, state reps and senators are elected to bring home the pork. Not only that, but they are subject to less scrutiny. The populace is not as informed about their legislators and local officials. Ask your college classes who the various statewide officials are, and they will likely be able to name them. Ask them who their state reps and senators are, and they will probably have a harder time.

If anti-incumbent sentiment affects local races less, that would explain why the Republicans have not made more progress in the legislature.

I do not really know whether the GOP will take over LA as you say, but neither do you. The analyst for The Advocate got it right—it could go either way.

baton rouge du nord said...

Oh, and the first governor that is a LIFELONG member of the GOP!!!! That's hilarious! How long has he even been able to vote!

You're REALLY REALLY reaching and working hard in your continuing efforts to shill for the GOP. I'll grant you that much!

Jeff Sadow said...

Note that I have two examples of pressure Jindal may use, both indirect (reminding legislators of the Blueprint agenda with the threat of going over their heads to the public if need be) and direct (use mainly of his informal powers which includes the line item veto among others -- I didn't spell them out for brevity's sake).

You seem to think 2007 may have been a one-time aberration -- a view that is unsupported by recent history, data, and logic. I gave some numbers on Republican electoral success which, by your logic, means there's been a 20-year period of "anti-incumbent" feelings. Odom's defeat is the perfect example of GOP success -- look who's run against him the past, and if we've known he's been corrupt all this time, why wasn't he voted out of office long ago? That he drew a quality opponent this time who defeated him speaks volumes that the tide is running strongly in the GOP's favor. And it certainly seems a testament to GOP strength that quality Democrats got waxed by Jindal, or deferred from running.

There are other data, too -- rapidly increasing numbers of GOP registrants that will accelerate because of the new closed primaries for federal elections, continuing increases in locally-elected Republicans, etc.

Note that my argument about coattails was more about theory than the math which tended to inflate the winner's totals in legislative districts relative to the governor's race (math also explains in part why Landrieu and Dardenne, facing fewer and weaker opponents, got more votes than Jindal). The concept means nothing in a situation where the two assumptions cited in the post are not met, political scientists long ago concluded.

(By way of information ... Jindal has been voting half of his adult life, and even if you asked my political science majors who was elected to what, most could get the governor and few anybody else. The public does far worse.)

If you are a Democrat you can't shut your eyes to the major, long-term shift to the GOP that is occuring in Louisiana as it catches up to the rest of the South. Wishing it away won't change that fact.