Impacting the White Electorate in Louisiana

A new Democracy Corps survey of likely white voters in Louisiana shows that while Mary Landrieu is in a difficult position and most likely trailing slightly, the race can be moved and Landrieu has a path to achieving the level of white support that is required to win a runoff in Louisiana. 

As veterans of Louisiana politics know, white voters in Louisiana are a difficult block for Democrats.  The general rule of thumb for a winning Democrat is the “30-30 rule:” a Democrat can win the state if they earn 30 percent of the white vote and African Americans make up 30 percent of the electorate.  In an off-year electorate like this one, African Americans usually make up slightly under 30 percent of the electorate, meaning Landrieu will probably need to slightly exceed 30 percent of the white vote to win. 

This survey shows that while Landrieu is not yet where she needs to be on this front, with the right messaging she can get to where she needs to be.  Cassidy is relatively weak with this Republican-leaning electorate, and his support is very soft, leaving plenty of voters out there to add to Landrieu’s current 27 percent. 

And over the course of the survey, this is exactly what she does.  After a balanced simulated campaign in which voters hear a series of attacks on Landrieu and a set of comparative statements on her behalf, she gains 10 points among persuadable voters and 5 points overall, bringing her to 32 percent (with 6 percent still undecided) – a winning position. 

Key Findings. 

  • White electorate overwhelmingly Republican-leaning.  White likely voters in the state tilt toward the Republicans by 36 points on partisan self-identification and prefer a generic Democrat to a generic Republican by a 23 to 68 percent margin.  Not surprisingly, President Obama is quite unpopular with these voters.
  • Landrieu’s personal standing is aligned with partisanship but she overperforms a generic Democrat.  Cassidy’s support is very soft.  Landrieu is currently at 27 percent of the white vote in a runoff matchup with Cassidy, 4 points higher than a generic Democrat.  This would likely not be good enough to win were an election today.  However it is not far off, and Cassidy’s support is very soft, as almost half of his 69 percent of the vote are only weakly committed to him.
  • Cassidy strongly underperforming partisanship on favorability. Cassidy has slightly positive ratings, at +10, but considering these voters prefer a generic Republican by 45 points, those are soft numbers for a Republican. 

o   Landrieu’s standing more related to vote than Cassidy’s.  Regression analysis shows that Landrieu’s favorability ratings are far more correlated with the vote than Cassidy’s, suggesting that while negative communication against Cassidy can help Landrieu, boosting her own standing would have a greater impact. 

  • In a balanced simulated campaign matching attacks on Landrieu with comparatives in her favor, Landrieu gains 5 points, and moves to 32 percent.  In a split sample experiment, we matched a series of critiques on Landrieu with either a similar set of attacks on Cassidy or a set of comparative messages on Landrieu’s behalf.  Though Landrieu gained in both exercises, her gains in the comparative exercise were extremely strong.  She gained 10 points on her vote (and cut Cassidy’s margin by 23 points) among persuadable voters. This translates into a 5-point gain overall, bringing her final vote to 32 percent, which would be enough to win, even if she did not pick up any of the remaining 6 percent who are undecided.[1]
  • Strongest comparative is on women’s issues.  The strongest comparative between Landrieu and Cassidy centers on women’s issues – Landrieu’s support for equal pay, ending insurance discrimination and making college affordable versus Cassidy’s votes against equal pay, the Violence Against Women Act and preventative health care for women.
  • Strongest straight critiques of Cassidy are on veterans and secret money.  Though the comparative messages moved the vote further in Landrieu’s direction than the straight attacks on Cassidy, these were not without power either.  The strongest of these hit Cassidy for voting to cut veterans’ health care and a pay increase for the troops while pocketing pay raises for himself, as well as his support for the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporate special interests to buy the election in return for politicians like Cassidy protecting their tax breaks. 

[1] Note, the messaging and revote in this survey was only asked of the 46 percent of the sample who were “persuadable” or not “absolutely certain” to vote for one of the two candidates in the two-way runoff vote.  

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