News coverage of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise's 2002 speech to a hate group founded by neo-Nazi and former state Rep. David Duke prompted widespread media coverage of Duke himself in recent weeks — something the former KKK leader always welcomes. That coverage naturally included mention of Duke's 1991 gubernatorial showdown against former Gov. Edwin Edwards in "the runoff from hell" — as if Louisianans needed another reminder of their worst political nightmare. To make matters worse, many national political reporters are now giving Duke even more political cred than he himself claimed back in 1991, by significantly overstating his share of the white vote in that runoff against EWE.
In the wake of the 1991 race, which Edwards won by a margin of 61.2 percent to Duke's 38.8 percent, Duke claimed a pyrrhic victory by boasting that he got 55 percent of the white vote statewide. According to voter registration and turnout figures, which were readily available at the time, Duke's claim was close but a tad high: He actually got slightly more than 53 percent of the white vote.
For some reason, the national media in recent weeks has begun reporting that Duke got 60 percent of the white vote in that race — or more. That's impossible, based on the known turnout (just under 80 percent among whites and blacks) and the undisputed results of the race. Had Duke gotten 60 percent or more of the white vote, his total vote would have been roughly 44 percent rather than less than 39 percent.
Gambit's analysis was confirmed by demographer Greg Rigamer, who has tracked voter turnout and voting patterns in Louisiana for decades and who serves as a consultant to the Louisiana Secretary of State's office. "In reviewing the 1991 gubernatorial election, it is reasonably clear that David Duke received a majority of the 'white' vote," Rigamer told Gambit. "However, his margin was likely closer to 50 percent than 60 percent."
The first instance of the erroneous 60 percent figure that we were able to locate is a Dec. 31, 2014 New York Times article about Scalise's 2002 speech to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). From there, the inflated white vote for Duke seems to have been reprinted as gospel. It isn't.
Make no mistake: Duke getting a majority of the white vote in a runoff for governor will always stand as a shameful reminder of too many white Louisiana voters' racial intolerance in the late 20th century — but exaggerating Duke's white vote only makes things appear even worse than they already were (and are).
Hopefully, the national media will correct their mistake and start getting it right.