On November 21, 2015, Louisiana held elections to elect a new governor and lieutenant governor of the state. In the gubernatorial election, Democrat and state representative John Bel Edwards, of Tangipahoa Parish, defeated Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter by a 56-44 margin, making him the first Democrat to win a statewide election in Louisiana since Mary Landrieu in 2008. In the lieutenant governor election, Republican and former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser defeated Democrat and East Baton Rouge Parish President Melvin “Kip” Holden by a 55-45 margin. Both candidates used unusual electoral coalitions in their wins, that demonstrate that the idea that “all politics is local” is still alive and well in some places.
An excellent way to show where the candidates did well, and where they did not do so well, is to look at the results by state House district. Louisiana has 105 state House districts, each with about 42,000 people. They include all possible combinations of urban, suburban, rural, African-American, and white voters, and thus they allow us to zero in on how the candidates performed in a specific area.
More below the fold.
This first map shows the results of the 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial election by state House district:
Despite Edwards’ 12-point win, Vitter actually won a majority of House districts. He won 53 districts while Edwards won 52. Edwards won 21 districts that voted for Romney in 2012. Edwards improved on Obama’s 2012 performance everywhere in the state, but that improvement was very uneven. This next map compares Edwards’ 2015 performance to Obama’s 2012 performance.
The places where Edwards improved the least upon Obama’s performance are all heavily African-American areas where Obama did very well to begin with; thus, Edwards did not have a lot of room for improvement in these areas. You can see this very clearly on the map; as there is a substantial divide between districts that are majority-African-American, and thus showed little improvement by Edwards over Obama; and their surrounding districts, which are mostly white and usually Republican and gave Edwards much larger improvements since he had much more room to grow there.
Another major pattern is that Edwards improved much less in the rural districts in the northern part of the state than he did in the rural districts in the southern (non-coastal) part of the state. The southern and southwestern part of the state is the Cajun area of Louisiana, and that area contains lots of voters who are willing to vote for the right Democrat (but not Obama), and Edwards did very well with those voters. He even won two parishes that gave Obama less than 30 percent of the vote in 2012: Allen and Jefferson Davis.
Edwards also improved dramatically in the Baton Rouge area, in some areas doing over 20 percentage points better than Obama did. There are two major reasons for this. One, voters who live in the vicinity of a state capital are more likely to be attuned to the political news of the state, and in this case more likely to have heard about Vitter’s indiscretions and Edwards’ promised bipartisanship. Two, the Baton Rouge area is the home base of Jay Dardenne, who ran for governor in the jungle primary and got 14 percent of the vote, but who won most of the Republican areas of the Baton Rouge area. After the jungle primary, Dardenne endorsed Edwards, and that probably convinced a lot of normally right-leaning voters who didn’t like Vitter that it would be okay to vote for Edwards.
One other place where Edwards improved dramatically over Obama’s performance is his home parish of Tangipahoa, one of the Florida Parishes just west of St. Tammany. Obama received only 35 percent of the vote in Tangipahoa, but Edwards got 60 percent of the vote there. In fact, the House district where Edwards improved the most over Obama’s performance is in Tangipahoa; district 86, just south of Edwards’ district 72. Obama received 25 percent there, while Edwards got a whopping 56 percent. The fact that district 86’s representative, Chris Broadwater (R), is a friend of Edwards and endorsed him for Governor, should be less of a surprise considering these numbers.
While Edwards did improve on Obama’s performance in every House district in the New Orleans area, the margins of improvement were markedly smaller than in the Baton Rouge area or most other parts of the state. The most important reason for this is that Jefferson Parish is David Vitter’s political base. He lives in Metairie, a large, unincorporated, ultra-conservative suburb of New Orleans, and in fact represented most of that area in Congress before becoming a Senator. Thus, Vitter’s base in Metairie largely stayed with him, as did most of the other white-majority areas of Jefferson, where Edwards saw only small improvements over Obama. Edwards did, however, do quite well in suburban St. Bernard Parish, which is diversifying rapidly. Finally, Edwards lost Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, mostly because its native son Billy Nungesser was running for Lieutenant Governor as a Republican and brought out lots of Republican voters there who might not have voted otherwise.
Lieutenant Governor Election
This map shows the results of the 2015 lieutenant governor election in Louisiana by state House district:
At first glance, it doesn’t look too different from a normal map of Louisiana in a presidential election: gerrymandered, African-American-majority districts vote for the Democrat, while the white-majority districts, with few exceptions, vote for the Republican. So how does the above map differ from a presidential election? Well, let’s compare Holden’s performance to Obama’s performance in 2012.
As the map shows, Holden outperformed Obama in most of the state, but his largest overperformances were in the vicinity of Baton Rouge, and in particular three HDs in the south side of Baton Rouge (HDs 68, 69, and 70). Holden outperformed Obama by over 20 percentage points in this area. That Holden would outperform Obama in that area is not too surprising considering that Holden is the President of East Baton Rouge Parish, and that he’s gotten a lot of support in the southern, whiter, more conservative areas of Baton Rouge in his past elections. In fact, Holden did so well in this area that he actually outperformed Edwards in HD-68. Holden’s overperformance of Obama gradually decreases as you move east away from Baton Rouge.
Holden also outperformed Obama in most of the rural areas of the state, and in particular the Cajun areas in the west-central and western parts of the state. Part of the reason why is because Obama did so poorly here – Obama generally received only about ten percent of the white vote in these areas. But Obama also received only about ten percent of the white vote in most of rural northern Louisiana as well. Thus, it is clear that Holden outperformed Obama among white voters by a wider margin in the Cajun areas than in northern Louisiana. This is because the Cajun areas have more swing voters, and are more willing to vote for Democrats at the state level. This is demonstrated by the fact that there are still many Democrats in Cajun County who represent House districts that voted for Romney, while there is only one House Democrat in all of northern Louisiana who represents a district that voted for Romney.
The other major pattern that the map shows is that Obama outperformed Holden, sometimes by substantial margins, in almost the entire New Orleans area. There are two interesting patterns that are demonstrated here. First is that the same way that Holden outperformed in the Baton Rouge area because he is from there, Nungesser outperformed in the New Orleans area because he is from there. Nungesser is from Plaquemines Parish, just south of New Orleans. In addition, in his position as Parish President of Plaquemines, he was outspoken in the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon oil spill, so much so that he became the face of the spill to many, and he became very well known in the New Orleans area as an advocate for the economy of the area. The parish where Nungesser outperformed Romney by the greatest margin was actually not Plaquemines, but neighboring St. Bernard. St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes have a long history of voting similarly, and St. Bernard also has a political machine that is capable of generating large margins for candidates from the area; Nungesser was the beneficiary in this election. The other major pattern in New Orleans that is demonstrated by the above map is that Holden didn’t just underperform Obama in the white suburbs of New Orleans, he also underperformed Obama substantially in the African-American areas of New Orleans. Nungesser received over ten percent of the African-American vote in many areas of New Orleans, and in New Orleans East in particular. This is about 10 percentage points more than either Romney or Vitter received among African-Americans (both Obama and Edwards received 100% of the vote in some >95-percent black precincts; Holden did not). Clearly, Nungesser’s past advocacy for the area convinced a not insignificant chunk of African-American voters in New Orleans to split their tickets and vote for him. Nungesser also received some African-American votes in most of Louisiana’s other cities, but not as many as ten percent; closer to five percent.
Finally, let’s take a look at how Edwards’ and Holden’s performances compared.
As the map shows, Edwards outperformed Holden by the smallest margins in the Baton Rouge area, since Holden is from there, and he outperformed Holden by wider margins in the New Orleans area since Nungesser is from there. But there are two other patterns that bear mentioning here. First is that Edwards outperformed Holden by substantial margins in southwestern Louisiana, specifically the Lake Charles area and the nearby parishes. The previous map, however, shows that Holden outperformed Obama by a significant margin in this area as well. This really demonstrates just how large a margin Edwards outperformed Obama by in this area, and how poorly Obama performed here. The second pattern of note is that two of the four House districts where Edwards outperformed Holden by over 20 percent (districts 73 and 86) are located in the same parish – Tangipahoa. Tangipahoa is Edwards’ home parish, and even though he may not have represented those districts (Edwards represented district 72), he still did extremely well in the areas of the parish that he did not represent. Edwards is a member of a Tangipahoa Parish political family, and his brother is the parish sheriff, so the Edwards clan is still well known in the areas of the parish outside of John Bel’s House district, and that may explain why he did so well in all areas of Tangipahoa Parish.
Questions? Comments? Thoughts? I’d love to hear them! ghnaigles -at- gmail -dot- com.