The first independent statewide survey since qualifying closed in the governor’s race shows U.S. Sen. David Vitter in trouble, despite the fact that he co-leads the field with Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards. The survey was taken by Clarus Research Group of Washington, D.C., for WWL-TV and The Advocate.
Here are the survey’s statewide results:
• John Bel Edwards 24%
• David Vitter 24%
• Scott Angelle 15%
• Jay Dardenne 14%
Five other candidates get 1% each, and “undecided” is at 18%. Vitter, Angelle and Dardenne are Republicans. Edwards is the only major Democrat.
How can Vitter be in trouble if he’s co-leading the poll?
Because since last April he has fallen from a high of 38% in a poll by Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR) — and being all alone atop the field — to just 24% (and tied for the lead with Edwards) in the Clarus poll. That’s a loss of more than one-third of his support since April.
Moreover, if black voters coalesce behind lone Democrat Edwards, which is what historically happens in Louisiana, Edwards will lead the field with more than 30 percent of the vote on Oct. 24 — and Vitter will find himself at best running second, possibly even challenged by Angelle or Dardenne for a runoff spot against the Democrat.
“Vitter and Edwards now have locks on the two runoff positions,” Clarus pollster Dr. Ron Faucheux told WWL-TV Sunday night. “The question is whether Angelle or Dardenne can break that lock.”
Faucheux said Angelle and Dardenne need to do a better job of getting their messages out to voters in the final four weeks if they hope to overtake Vitter or Edwards.
Vitter’s collapse from the mid-to-high 30s since last spring is just the start of the bad news for him, however. The WWL/Advocate poll also shows Vitter trailing every potential runoff opponent in head-to-head matchups. That, too, is a huge shift since last spring, when Vitter beat all comers in head-to-head trial heats.
Here are the runoff results showing Vitter trailing each of his opponents:
• Edwards 45%, Vitter 41%
• Angelle 40%, Vitter 35%
• Dardenne 42%, Vitter 35%
“I think the thing that probably would concern the Vitter campaign the most is not just the fact that their candidate is not leading in the runoff — even though he’s by far the best known candidate,” Faucheux said of the runoff poll results. “I think what is concerning to them is that even against Edwards, the Democrat, Vitter is only polling at 41 percent of the vote — which is not that strong a showing for somebody who is so well known.”
Faucheux elaborated to The Advocate: "If Vitter wins a runoff spot on the basis of a polarized partisan coalition and doesn’t improve his positive ratings in the process, he risks winning the primary and losing the runoff.”
These poll numbers are not only bad news for Vitter, but they also could be a wake-up call for the Louisiana GOP. Republicans already control the state House of Representatives, the state Senate and all statewide elected offices, including the Governor’s Mansion. Until now, Vitter appeared to be state GOPs best prospect for holding onto the governor’s office — but now it appears he could actually cost the GOP that prize. It will be interesting to see how prominent GOP donors and political figures — many of whom have been afraid to buck Vitter so far — react after seeing these poll numbers.
On top of all that bad news for Vitter, consider this: Because he has virtually universal name recognition, unlike his three major opponents, Vitter has little if any room to improve his 24% share of the vote. That may explain why his “independent” Super PACs are attacking Angelle and Dardenne. Those two Republicans and Edwards all have significant room to grow because they are known well by only about half the state’s voters. Vitter’s attacks are intended to keep them from creeping up on him as his support dwindles — but that has occurred anyway, according to the WWL/Advocate poll.
All in all, the WWL/Advocate poll is a low-water mark for the Vitter campaign. Back in the spring, when Vitter was alone atop the field and polling in the mid-to-high 30s, some of his conservative boosters in the media crowed that he might win it all in the primary. They’re not crowing any more.
What explains Vitter’s precipitous drop?
The short answer: he lost his “soft” vote.
Back in the spring, most voters were not paying much attention to the race, so a great deal of the support that all candidates were showing was actually “soft” in nature. That is, voters’ preferences largely reflected the candidates they knew (mostly Vitter), not necessarily a firm commitment to vote one way or the other in October.
Now that the field is set and voters have started paying close attention to the campaign — and to the attack ads from all sides — the “soft” support for all candidates has eroded, especially for Vitter.
No doubt recent news accounts of Vitter skipping debates and ducking questions about his prostitution scandal haven’t helped the senator. Additional details of the poll, which will be revealed all this week on WWL-TV and in The Advocate, will provide further insights into Vitter’s loss of support.
The survey, which was taken Sept. 20-23, has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.5 percent. Pollsters interviewed 800 Louisiana registered voters who are likely to vote in the Oct. 24 primary. The survey sample reflected the Louisiana electorate across lines of race, age, gender and geography.
Clarus Research Group is a non-partisan survey research firm based in Washington, D.C. Clarus does not work for any of the candidates covered by the survey, or for any political party committees. Faucheux, who is Clarus’ president and chief analyst, is a native New Orleanian and former state representative and Louisiana Secretary of Commerce. He received his Ph.D. in political science from UNO and formerly was publisher of Campaigns and Elections magazine.