Tuesday, 20 March 2018 17:49

Louisiana Gov. Edwards can lift voters' pessimism by moving towards right

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down laDemocrats in particular are driving frustration in the Louisiana public, perhaps egged on by unkept promises from Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Such a conclusion comes from data gathered by Louisiana State University’s Public Policy Research Lab. The first release from its 2018 Louisiana Survey came last week, focusing on questions of trust in politicians and government and assessing its performance, as well as perceptions of the population’s political views and attitudes.
Of note, after last year where those respondents thinking the state headed in the right direction exceeded marginally those who thought the opposite, this year’s results followed the reverse trend of recent years. With half thinking wrong direction, 11 points more than the opposing view, this overall negativity adhered to the pattern since 2012. The year before had slightly more saying wrong direction, but this may have been a product of an election year).
Reviewing the numbers going back to the beginning of the Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration sheds some light on the current figure. After a couple of years of very negative results undoubtedly reflecting former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s inept and politicized handling of the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane disasters, his assuming office in 2008 – followed by a number of reforms including on ethics, tax cuts, more efficient government spending, and expanded educational choice – produced a public that, typically widely for years, liked the direction of state government.
But after Jindal’s attempt at tax reform in 2013 fizzled, much of the momentum went out of his governorship, and at that point opinion turned negative. The bottom really dropped out in special surveys after large tax increases in Jindal’s final year (also obviously an election year) and stayed that way after the next round of big hikes in 2016. The atypical 2017 result may have represented more relief at not having to deal with yet higher taxes still.
So, 2018 returned to form as the specter of higher taxes reemerged and marked three straight years that Edwards had held the sick, disabled, and students hostage, threatening to cut such programs (despite readily-available alternative actions) unless the Republican-led Legislature gave him permanent tax hikes, preferably based upon middle-class-and-above income earners. It’s little wonder, in this environment, that dissatisfaction of government comes from across the political spectrum, as the survey indicated.
Yet now it’s Democrats, particularly blacks, that seem especially perturbed by the state of affairs. Feelings on direction appear to vary by education, income, and race. The better educated and the higher incomes, the more satisfaction appears, along with non-blacks more likely to declare government headed in the right direction (even as majorities among all races saw things headed in the wrong direction).
This helps to explain the observed partisan differences. Republicans are split on the matter, with the deficit of wrong over right appearing among Democrats and others. Probably if running the raw data with controls, the partisan differences largely would disappear among whites and perhaps other non-blacks. In large part, the income and education variables held constant would demonstrate the same, as blacks disproportionately comprise the less educated and lower income households. (The most interesting comparison would match up less educated/lower income whites, blacks, and others among themselves.)
Thus, Democrats, particularly blacks, must have something eating at them, and this likely is the overselling, whether intentional, by Edwards of his agenda. On economic issues and to a lesser extent on the social side, he has sought a hard left program little of which so far he has fulfilled. Besides creating an expensive new entitlement for many with expanded Medicaid, on ideological/partisan issues he has experienced next to no success. If anything, to its chagrin he increased sales taxes on his electoral base, and may extend that in the coming months.
By contrast, Republicans hardly approve of the state’s direction but are not nearly as pessimistic, with perhaps some feeling encouraged by the Legislature’s holding the line on taxes (so far) but others fearing a state government they think too spendthrift already ready to spend more and to impose higher permanent tax increases to feed that. This would explain results by ideological identification, with only moderates marginally seeing the direction more right than wrong, while equally healthy majorities of liberals and conservatives see the state headed in the wrong direction.
Therefore, unless Edwards (unexpectedly) moves to the center that would refresh disappointment on the left but would perk up the right’s assessment of the state’s direction, expect a large dose of pessimism in the public. As long as he tries to drag public policy in a direction that the state’s center-right majority does not want to go, causing further conflict that worries it, and not succeeding in that which depresses the left – or by chance if he did thereby deflating the majority’s ambivalent assessment – this pattern will continue.
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Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines


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