Inside Report: Last year’s drop showed future in Jindal polls

BY LANNY KELLER

Don’t be surprised at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s drop in the polls. Bernie Pinsonat forecast that long before the most-recent polling.

Last fall, Southern Media and Opinion Research polled state voters on Jindal, among other topics.

For an election, a pollster will often “screen” voters by their likelihood of voting. The idea is that regular or “chronic” voters, who show up for even the most minor elections, are those whose opinion matters. It’s less so for those unlikely to vote — and particularly in state or local elections, where turnout is typically a smaller percentage than in big presidential election years.

Southern Media’s Pinsonat and partner Buster McKenzie polled registered voters, with no screen for chronic voters. It was a presidential election year, and questions other than about Jindal were in the mix.

But Pinsonat’s insight then was that the governor was beginning his push to privatize charity hospitals — long one of the state’s most controversial but also well-loved institutions by many.

If one is taking the public temperature on an issue that involves regular folks — particularly the lower-income working people who might use charity hospitals regularly — it makes sense not to screen for likely voters, who tend to be of higher incomes or educational status.

The September 2012 poll showed the governor’s approval rating down to 51 percent from previously stratospheric heights.

Characteristically, Jindal political consultant Timmy Teepell trashed the result, saying that the poll understated conservative voters.

That bad attitude looks less persuasive given the newest Southern Media poll.

Jindal continued to privatize public hospitals, took on controversial public school changes anathema to many teachers and then proposed a huge sales tax increase to fund removal of the personal and corporate income tax — well, maybe it’s a wonder that the new Southern Media poll shows Jindal’s ratings as high as 38 percent.

Voters are apparently not happy with the Jindal tax reform plan, or cuts to state services.

Jindal’s critics on the national scene have much fodder in this: “It seems there’s little in Jindal’s administration that has the support of Louisiana voters,” wrote Jamelle Bouie in the liberal American Prospect. “Indeed, at this point, the governor of one of the country’s reddest states is less popular than Barack Obama — at 43 percent approval, he edges out Jindal by five percentage points.”

The bad news for the Jindal spinmeisters: McKenzie and Pinsonat went back to their regular polling list of likely voters this time. If anything, the newest Southern Media poll was structured in a way that should have helped Jindal, not hurt him.

The buzz around the latest poll should not be overstated in terms of Jindal’s capacity to push bills in the legislative session opening Monday. There is only one governor at a time.

Lawmakers already knew that Jindal was constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term, and so their political calculations might not be so greatly affected by polling. Jindal, too, still has cards to play, with a political organization and war chest that can generate emails and other backing for the tax plan.

Even at 38 percent, with a political organization in place around the state, a high level of support for the tax plan remains a potential weight on the legislative scales.

Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is lkeller@theadvocate.com.