by Clancy DuBos
Voter turnout in last weekend’s gubernatorial primary was 38.5 percent, according to official stats released by Secretary of State Tom Scheduler’s office. White voter turnout (41%) was slightly higher than black voter turnout (32.9%).
While the overall turnout was significantly lower than expected — and lower than recent statewide primaries — the 8.1 percent “differential” between white and black turnout was about what it usually is in a primary. Many factors, including rain over large portions of the state, contributed to the low turnout.
In a runoff election, black and white voter turnouts tend to be more proportionate, percentage-wise, especially when there’s a hotly contested race atop the ballot. Such is the case in this year's gubernatorial election, with Republican David Vitter running race-baiting ads about President Barack Obama and Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards. In addition, the Democrat in the runoff for lieutenant governor is the African-American mayor of Baton Rouge, Kip Holden. He faces former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, a Republican.
Demographer Greg Rigamer, who has served as a consultant to Schedler’s office, says he’s not optimistic that the Nov. 21 runoff will generate a higher turnout than what we saw in the primary.
“The turnout last weekend was inordinately low for this kind of race,” Rigamer said of the primary. “The runoff is the weekend before Thanksgiving. Turnout could actually be lower than it was in the primary.”
When asked if a lower turnout would favor either candidate for governor, Rigamer said, “It cuts both ways. African-American turnout is clearly important to Edwards, but the real test for him is whether he can get a good share of the votes that went to Jay Dardenne and Scott Angelle in the primary.”
In many past elections, turnout in the runoff was higher than in the primary, according to figures released by Schedler’s office. For example, in the 1991 “runoff from hell” featuring Edwin Edwards against David Duke, the turnout was 79.7 percent — much higher than the primary turnout of 71.4 percent. That race was before the so-called Motor Voter law spiked Louisiana’s voter registration rolls, which is why that year's turnout figures seem high by today’s standards.
In the 2003 statewide elections, the runoff turnout of 50.9 percent was slightly higher than the primary turnout of 50.4 percent. That contest was between Kathleen Blanco, the eventual winner, and Bobby Jindal.
Last weekend, Edwards’s campaign spent next to nothing on GOTV efforts. That is expected to change on Nov. 21, particularly after his strong 40-percent showing in the primary and Vitter’s flagging 23 percent share of the vote.