As we enter the political season, we can expect to be bombarded by political polls showing this or that candidate poised to win his or her election. When scientifically conducted and objectively analyzed, polls are useful campaign tools -- but we should all remember that they do not predict the outcome of elections. Rather, legitimate polls are merely snapshots in time; they accurately depict the electorate's attitudes and opinions at a particular moment.
Campaigns, on the other hand, tend to be fluid affairs.
Over the years, surveys have evolved from useful "insider" campaign tools to major components of candidates' spin machines. That has led to the use of "push polls," surveys in which voters are force-fed information about one or more candidates right before they are asked how they would vote. After hearing that Candidate X has rescued women and children from burning buildings, and that Candidate Y left his wife and six children to shack up with the babysitter (after raping his neighbor's dog and burning down a few churches), voters in a typical push poll are then asked, "If the election were held today and the candidates were X and Y, who would you most likely vote for?"
I say all this by way of warning one and all to be wary of putting too much stock in polls as predictors of an election -- or even of how things look at any given point in time. On the other hand, when objective polls by reputable pollsters consistently show one candidate faring poorly and another growing stronger by the minute, well, that's why candidates themselves use polls. As a campaign tool, they can be useful both for strategic purposes and for helping candidates -- including incumbents -- decide when it's time to call it quits.
On that note, Gov. Kathleen Blanco has got to be worried about the latest survey by Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR), a Baton Rouge-based polling outfit that has accurately measured Louisiana voters' attitudes for nearly two decades. In a head-to-head against Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal, Blanco, a Democrat, trailed 58.5 percent to 34.7 percent. The remaining 6.8 percent were undecided or refused to state a preference.
That survey was taken Jan. 12-14 by sampling 600 likely voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, which is standard for statewide polls.
"She has not moved much in the last 17 months," SMOR's Bernie Pinsonat says of Blanco's standing since Hurricane Katrina. "She fares even worse in the New Orleans area, where voters appear to be very upset with her because of the Road Home program."
That's the understatement of the year.
The SMOR survey shows Blanco trailing Jindal in all major geographic areas of the state -- but more so in southeast Louisiana. Hereabouts, Jindal leads Blanco by a margin of 72.3 percent to 21.7 percent, or more than three-to-one.
When the numbers are examined by race and gender -- two key demographics for Blanco -- they look even worse for The Governess, but for different reasons. Blanco still leads heavily among black voters (74.3 percent to Jindal's 19.3 percent), but that means she has very little room to grow among her natural base. Even if she takes away all but 3 or 4 percent of Jindal's black vote, which arguably she might not be able to do this time around, her overall vote would still fall short of 40 percent against the guy she barely beat last time, when he was an untested commodity. Now, he's a congressman.
Among whites, Jindal crushes Blanco by a margin of 74.6 percent to 19 percent.
The worst news for Blanco may be among women, whose support for her crystallized in the final week of her 2003 victory over Jindal. In the SMOR survey, she gets only 33.7 percent of the vote, compared to 57.6 for Jindal. Ironically, Blanco fares slightly better among men -- 35.9 percent of whom support her, compared to 59.6 percent for Jindal.
I'll close with the same caveat that I began with: No poll can predict this election's outcome. Elections are fluid, and things could change between now and Oct. 20. Then again, sometimes polls convey messages that wise candidates -- including incumbents -- need to take to heart.
- One reliable survey shows Gov. Kathleen Blanco trailing Congressman Bobby Jindal in all major geographic areas of the state.