Political Horizons: Louisiana’s continuing angst

Unemployment is down. The economy is growing. Festival season is starting.

All should be cheery in Sportsman’s Paradise.

But statewide polls released last week say “No.”

A vast number of Louisiana residents told pollsters that the state is headed in the wrong direction. One survey found that two-thirds believe the state’s elected officials can’t handle Louisiana’s most pressing problems. Another poll found that almost half the state’s residents held an unfavorable impression of the state’s No. 1 politician, Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Unemployment declined in Louisiana to 5.4 percent for 2013. The national rate was 6.7 percent Friday.

But Jindal will get little credit, and it’s largely his own doing, says Kirby Goidel, an LSU professor whose book, “America’s Failing Experiment,” is a study of how the political exploitation of anger, coupled with the Internet, have impacted government’s ability to govern.

The malingering feeling everyday people have is probably related to the constant hammering of negative political-speak about issues, such as Common Core, Medicaid expansion and budget cuts.

“The opponents are relentless and keep hitting again and again and again and not letting go of any part of it,” Goidel said. And that has an impact on how voters perceive government.

In the past, the long knives would come out once every four years, then would be sheathed in the interim to get on with the work of governing.

“But now the campaigning as governing is nonstop,” said Goidel, who worked on the 2014 Louisiana Survey. “It’s more intense. It’s more personal. It’s more vicious. It just feels different. As a quantitative guy, I hate to go to ‘feelings,’ especially if I can’t measure them and put them in a scale, but it feels different.”

Forty-one percent of 1,095 Louisiana residents interviewed thought the state is headed in the wrong direction, according to the 2014 Louisiana Survey, a 98-question poll conducted by the Public Policy Research Lab at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication.

It’s not just the LSU survey, which was publicly released Monday. A poll released Thursday that was commissioned by Lane Grigsby, the Baton Rouge contractor who frequently contributes to conservative candidates and causes, came roughly to the same conclusions.

Almost a majority — 47.6 percent of the 600 people questioned March 24 through March 26 — say the state had “gotten off on the wrong track,” according to the poll conducted by Magellan Strategies in Baton Rouge.

Almost two-thirds of the population — 64 percent — has little confidence that the state’s elected officials will be able to tackle the most important problem facing Louisiana, the LSU poll says.

The percentage of people who think state government can address issues has dropped like a stone since 2009. Interestingly, the people with the lowest level of confidence — 28 percent — are the very ones you’d expect to know the most about the intimate doings of government: the folks living in the Baton Rouge area, where most of the employees, regulators and lobbyists live.

Barry Erwin, president of Council for A Better Louisiana, says the angst may reflect coverage of the anger surrounding Common Core. LSU asked its questions during the most intense series of public meetings.

“You’re seeing the sound and fury because there’s so much passion on the ‘anti’ side” of Common Core, Erwin said, adding that the debate reminded people of how poorly Louisiana public schools score in national rankings.

“People have been hearing a lot of that background, and that reminds you about where we do stand, and that spikes the concerns that people have,” Erwin said.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said it goes back further than Common Core.

He recalled the tongue-lashing House Education Chairman Steve Carter received from witness after witness during a Wednesday night hearing. It became so intense — one witness cussed him — that the opponents’ legislative ally, state Rep. Cameron Henry, R- Metairie, interceded and asked supporters of his bill to calm down.

“The general anger, the rage we saw last night, we have to go back to the political messaging really for the last three, six, eight years,” Monaghan said Thursday. “It’s what happens when you use the campaign style of selling that is simplistic and reinforces prejudices … You spend all this time saying government is the problem, so when government has a solution, it immediately becomes a lie or conspiracy of some kind.”

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is mballard@theadvocate.com.