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Poll leaves Edwards little room for optimism

My Baton Rouge Advocate colleague Stephanie Grace makes for readers the optimistic case for reelection next year of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Here, readers will find the realistic case.

Grace notes the latest quarterly polling results on governors put out by the political research group Morning Consult gives Edwards’ approval exceeding disapproval by 49-35, with the remainder unwilling to say one way or the other. She observes that he “just eked into the top half” of the list and states “That’s pretty good news for a Democrat running in a Republican-leaning state.”

No, it’s not. If in fact a Democrat has to contest in a “Republican-leaning” state, he had better have a significant gap above 50 percent, because elections aren’t a plebiscite on an officeholder’s performance but a contest against real flesh-and-blood opponents. And, as earlier polling data have indicated, Edwards does not fare well against presumptive GOP opponents.

Of that 49 percent, some portion will believe Edwards has done more good than bad, but if given another choice will prefer someone else. Were he aligned with the state’s majority opinion, that would be the case only with a candidate less moderate, but on the majority of issues he’s not; for him, these people will defect to candidates of the other major party.

Then, of the 35 percent, almost none would give a vote to Edwards regardless of the opposition. And, of the undecided most are looking for a reason to vote for somebody other than Edwards and any decent Republican candidate will provide them one.

Trying to shore up her argument, Grace proceeds to undermine it. She writes about a “general trend away of party playing a decisive role in determining gubernatorial popularity,” relating that the two top and bottom scorers each run counter to prevailing political allegiances in their states. Thus, she argues, Edwards can overcome run counter to majority political sympathies to secure another term.

It’s a reach. Of course, looking almost everywhere else on the list shows a strong association between partisanship and approval; as I have noted elsewhere, basing decisions on exceptional cases never works as well as doing so on the population as a whole.

But, more than in any other state, specifically partisanship already plays a very minor role in Louisiana state elections. With the nation’s weakest political parties and a political culture and electoral system that discourages party affiliation, there’s nothing a trend can weaken here in Edwards’ favor. As the 2015 gubernatorial election showed, with the state’s peculiar political culture that emphasizes so much personalistic politics, candidate image still plays an outsized role in Louisiana politics, so partisanship has little room for further deemphasis in the minds of voters.

Frankly, the only good news Edwards can take from this poll is that his approval rating hadn’t eroded further. That won’t last. A year from now, with commercials out about how during his term Edwards has overseen the nation’s worst and even contracting economy, raised taxes and government spending above the rate of inflation, and who reneged on a promise to create lasting fiscal reform, it will defy all odds for him even to maintain this level. And at best he can counter with just one – maybe – significant accomplishment while in office.

These numbers for Edwards aren’t a disaster. Yet neither should they bring any cheer or optimism. They continue to indicate that at best he remains a toss-up for reelection, and that probabilities overwhelmingly favor downside rather than upside.

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