The latest statewide survey of Louisiana voters confirmed what everybody already knew: there is no clear favorite in either party and just about anybody could break out of the pack between now and mid-October. More than a third of the state's voters are undecided.
The survey was taken March 14-22 by Southern Media and Opinion Research (SMOR) of Baton Rouge, which has polled Louisiana voters for various media outlets for more than a decade. It has a margin of error of 3.8 percent.
Pollsters interviewed voters across the state about the five Democrats and seven Republicans who have announced or are presumed to be candidates. The Democrats are Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, Treasurer John Kennedy, former state Senate President Randy Ewing and former Congressman Buddy Leach. The Republicans are former Gov. Dave Treen, former state health secretary Bobby Jindal, state Rep. Hunt Downer, state Sens. John Hainkel and Ken Hollis, Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman, former legislative auditor Dan Kyle.
Here's what the survey showed:
· "Undecided," 39.5 percent.
· Blanco, 13.9 percent.
· Treen, 10.2 percent.
· Ieyoub, 8.2 percent.
· Jindal, 6.4 percent.
· Ewing, 4.8 percent.
· Kennedy, 3.5 percent.
· Leach, 3.3 percent
· Downer, 3.3 percent.
· Kyle, 3.0 percent.
· Hainkel, 2.3 percent.
· Blossman, 1.2 percent.
· Hollis, 0.5 percent.
Timing is crucial in politics, equally so in polling. Most of the SMOR survey's interviews were completed before Blossman's recent spate of TV commercials, so it does not reflect their impact. At the same time, Jindal had just announced with a flourish -- including kind words from Gov. Mike Foster -- right before the survey was taken, so the numbers undoubtedly reflect his "bounce" from those two developments.
While the media reported the "raw" numbers above, most did not dig very deeply into the survey to look at "cross-tabs" that reflect geographic, party, racial and gender breakdowns. That's where the real meat of a survey lies.
For example, candidates should all do well in their home territories. Blanco, who's from Lafayette, and Downer, who's from Houma, run strongest in Acadiana, while Treen, who's from Mandeville, runs best in metro New Orleans. Ewing likewise finds nearly all his support in is native north Louisiana, while Kyle gets most of his vote from the area that includes Baton Rouge.
Conversely, Kennedy, Leach, Hainkel, Blossman and Hollis do not show significant levels of support in their native areas, although Kennedy runs relatively well in north Louisiana.
The favorite candidate among white voters in the SMOR survey is Blanco (15.6 percent), followed by Treen (13.3 percent). Whites comprise roughly 70 percent of the Louisiana electorate. Nearly 36 percent of the whites were undecided.
Among black voters, Ieyoub led with 12.9 percent, followed by Blanco and Kennedy with 9.1 percent each. Interestingly, Leach has spent more than $1.3 million establishing himself statewide and wooing black leaders intensely. Yet, he trails Republican Treen among blacks with only 3.0 percent of the black vote to Treen's 4.5 percent. More than 46 percent of the African-American voters surveyed were undecided.
Since the 1980s, national pundits have examined a phenomenon dubbed "the gender gap." It first showed itself during Ronald Reagan's campaigns for the presidency when he had significantly more support among men than among women.
In the race for governor, Blanco currently is the only female candidate, and voters seem to know that. She gets 15.5 percent among women in the SMOR survey, and 11.8 percent among men. Treen, on the other hand, gets 12.0 percent among men and 8.9 percent among women. All the others polled fairly equally among men and women.
If you're trying to pick a winner based on these or any other survey results, forget it. Polls are not crystal balls. They're more like snapshots. The most telling statistic of the SMOR poll is this one: "Undecided" has more support than the top four finishers combined. Truly, this race has not yet begun, and anybody can still win.