WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In 2014, more Louisianans identify themselves as or lean Democratic (45%) than Republican (41%), a shift from the slight edge Republicans have held for past three years. The shift in party preferences is likely a welcome indicator for Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu as she attempts to win her fourth term in one of this year's most highly watched U.S. Senate races.
Still, the Democratic Party's current edge in Louisiana is smaller than its 10-point advantage in 2008, when Landrieu last won re-election.
Without allocating the leanings of independents, 35% of Louisianans in the first half of 2014 identified themselves as Democrats, 33% as independents, and 28% as Republicans, giving the Democrats a seven-percentage-point edge. That compares with a 10-point edge in unleaned party ID in 2008, when 39% identified as Democrats and 29% as Republicans. Nationally, for the first six months of this year, the split was 30% Democrats, 40% independents, and 25% Republicans.
Either way, Louisiana Democrats have a smaller advantage this year than in 2008, similar to the party identification trends nationally. That is not good news for Landrieu, who has clung to her seat with relatively narrow victories since her initial 1996 bid for the Senate. If Landrieu fails to get 50% of the vote in the November election, by state law, it would force a December runoff election between the two top vote-getters -- likely against the Republican front-runner, Rep. Bill Cassidy. This scenario could leave her vulnerable if the anti-Landrieu votes are consolidated in the runoff.
Though Landrieu narrowly avoided a runoff in 2008, two Republicans -- Cassidy and Air Force Col. Rob Maness -- are challenging her in the November general election, making a subsequent runoff election likely because of the split votes. For Landrieu, the risk of a runoff is only magnified by the smaller Democratic advantage this year than in 2008. For national Democrats and Republicans, it could mean that the majority party in the U.S. Senate would not be decided until December.
However, given that 2014 may be a slightly more favorable Democratic environment in Louisiana than in 2010 or 2012, the news is not all bad for Landrieu. Of course, the Democratic advantage in party preferences helps her only if the turnout of Democrats (and Landrieu supporters) comes close to matching that of non-Democrats (and Landrieu opponents).
Despite Democratic Edge, Louisianans Most Likely to Identify as Conservatives
Although Democrats currently outnumber Republicans in the state, Louisianans are most likely to describe their political views as conservative (45%), rather than moderate (34%) or liberal (17%).
Louisiana is among the six most conservative states in the country, and has the distinction of being one of four states whose residents are more likely to identify as conservatives than they are as Republicans (including leaners). The other three states all have 2014 Senate races: In Mississippi and West Virginia, Republicans are expected to win, while the outcome of the Arkansas contest is uncertain.
This conservative bent may seem contradictory, given the lower percentage identifying as Republicans in Louisiana. But with the GOP's grip on five of the state's six congressional districts, as well as the governor's office and the other U.S. Senate seat (held by David Vitter since 2005), the high number of conservatives suggests that right-leaning Louisianans may be voting along ideological rather than partisan lines.
Obama's Effect on the Louisiana Senate Race
President Barack Obama's job approval rating in Louisiana has consistently been below the national average. In the first half of this year, 40% of Louisianans approved of the president's performance, compared with 43% nationally. In some years, his rating in Louisiana has been as many as seven points below the national average.
Low Obama approval in Louisiana is a new challenge for Landrieu, who has not run for re-election during Obama's tenure until this year. Though she has attempted to distance herself from the president, her opponents have tried to tie Landrieu to his policies, including her vote that helped pass the Affordable Care Act.
But the president isn't the only external political figure who could play into the Senate race -- former Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards is running for a seat in Cassidy's former congressional district. Edwards, who served eight years in federal prison for corruption, could negatively affect the Democratic line for some voters who react against the scandals that have plagued many of the state's political figures. According to Gallup's 2013 50-state poll, 48% of Louisianans express trust in their state government, 10 points lower than the 50-state average.
Additionally, Louisianans have a gloomier view of the nation at large. Gallup's Economic Confidence Index for the first half of 2014 puts the 50-state average at -16, but for Louisiana, it's an even lower -27. At the state level, the 50-state average for Americans' confidence in their state's economy in 2013 was 23; for Louisiana it was 10. This lower confidence in the economy, especially the national economy, could affect whom voters choose to send to Congress.
The road to winning the Louisiana U.S. Senate seat is marked with many potholes that could sink Landrieu's path to re-election. From the less favorable political climate to Obama's unpopularity, and from the conservative tilt of the state to the complicated three-way contest in the so-called "jungle primary," there are many obstacles for the incumbent to navigate. Though she has squeezed through some highly contested races in the past, Landrieu's chances of doing so again in 2014 appear to be slimmer, given the variety of factors going against her.
Obama's name will not appear on the 2014 ballot, but he is clearly a presence in the race -- and his low approval rating suggests that he is more of a detriment than an asset to Landrieu's re-election bid. These factors culminate in a stormy political climate that gives Cassidy an opportunity to take the seat Landrieu has held for three terms.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted on the Gallup Daily tracking survey with a random sample of 88,802 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Results are also based on Gallup's recent 50-state poll conducted June-December 2013 with a random sample of approximately 600 adults per state, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states.
For results based on the 2014 sample of 1,396 Louisiana residents, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
For results based on the 2013 sample of adults per state, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.