The annual spring survey of Louisiana voters by Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR) has mixed news for our state's politicians. That shouldn't surprise, given the mixed signals coming out of Baton Rouge.
The bad news for all elected officials is a majority of the state's voters (52 percent) think Louisiana is going down the tubes, or, as pollsters call it, "headed in the wrong direction." Roughly 32 percent believe we're headed in the right direction, while 16 percent don't know where we're headed. Considering state lawmakers currently are vexed over how to solve a massive budget problem, the latter group actually may have got it right.
The good news for Gov. John Bel Edwards is he continues to get positive reviews overall despite voters' gloomy outlook for the state. The bad news for him is that his numbers have slipped since just last autumn. His latest "job performance" ratings show him with an overall 53.8 percent "positive" rating compared to a 42 percent "negative" rating.
Pollster Bernie Pinsonat noted, "Governor John Bel Edwards' honeymoon is officially over as his job performance ratings fell by nine percentage points since November 2016." While the governor continues to do well among black voters, his white support has fallen. Pinsonat attributes that to the "continuing discussion by Gov. Edwards of additional taxes." No surprise there.
Interestingly, Edwards slightly out-polls President Donald Trump, who got a 51.5 percent "positive" rating and 47.2 percent "negative" marks.
The SMOR poll did not ask voters how they feel about state lawmakers, but it's a safe bet leges would not have fared well. Voters expressed opposition both to higher taxes and cuts to education and health care — the two areas most often gutted. In the past 12 months, legislators have given voters both higher taxes and deep cuts to the popular TOPS college scholar- ship program.
According to SMOR, a whopping 70 percent of voters favor fully funding TOPS next school year, after seeing it cut significantly this past year. The only thing more unpopular than cutting TOPS was cutting health care; more than 77 percent oppose cuts to community hospitals. The budget recently approved by the House purportedly funds TOPS fully, but it makes deep cuts to health care.
Edwards has blasted House members for passing a budget that he says doesn't come close to addressing the state's needs, but the poll gives him only limited cover. While voters roundly support funding for hospitals, two-thirds of them oppose higher taxes — particularly a 17-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. In a related question, nearly 55 percent said the state's main problem is too much spending.
That last response doesn't quite jibe with voter opposition to cutting TOPS and hospitals, but this is not the first time Louisiana voters have said "stop spending so much" while at the same time hollering about cuts to favored programs such as TOPS and hospitals.
In a sense, voters aren't offering any clearer answers to the state's predicament than are lawmakers — but voters do have the option of firing lawmakers in 2019.