GOP gaining in state

Party registration not showing trend

Marsha Shuler

Capitol news bureau

While Republicans have been gaining Louisiana election victories, there’s been no corresponding big shift in Republican voter registration, state election records reveal.

Increasing numbers of white voters have left the Democratic Party in the last decade but many have chosen an independent or other party option instead of moving to the GOP, according to state records.

A decade ago, 52 percent of white voters were Democrat, 30 percent Republican and 18 percent in the other party column.

Today, slightly more whites are opting for Republican party registration than Democrat — 38 percent to 37 percent. But 25 percent of white voters aren’t aligned with either of the major political parties.

Political analysts and pollsters say the open primary election system, where all candidates regardless of party are on the same ballot, has a lot to do with the GOP victories.

There’s no real need for Democrats to switch to Republican when it comes to the voting booth and no compelling reason to align with a party either for some voters, they said.

“You don’t have to choose a side. It’s easy to go ‘no party’ because there’s no sanction,” said LSU associate professor of political science Robert Hogan.

“The vote is for the person, not the party as people always say, but in reality a lot of people registered independent aren’t no party,” Hogan said.

Hogan and political-poll analyst Bernie Pinsonat said more of those white no-party voters are tending to vote Republican as well as some white Democrats.

“A poll question we always ask is, ‘No matter how you are registered, who do you tend to vote with?’ ” said Pinsonat. “It used to be 33-34-35 percent Republican. Now the number of people who say they tend to vote Republican … approaches 50 percent.”

Pinsonat said some of that propensity in more recent times has had to do with Democrat President Barack Obama as well as Obama administration policies on energy and health care that create political problems in Louisiana.

“But there’s no great urge or urgency for them to change parties,” he said.

“There has been this (voting) shift, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be here forever because there’s been no corresponding change in registration by white Democrats over to Republican,” Pinsonat said. “If there’s a silver lining for Democrats, it’s that.”

Long-term and short-term forces are at play, said Kurt Corbello, an associate professor of political science at Southeastern Louisiana University who does polling.

“While some voters have realigned from Democrat to Republican, at least to some degree, Louisiana voters have been affected by the same (party) de-alignment pressures felt for decades now by voters all across the country,” Corbello said.

“Clearly, the Louisiana electorate continues to be in transition,” he said.

As whites are less and less likely to vote for a Democrat, there’s been a “hardening of the electoral performance” among black voters, said Shreveport political analyst Elliot Stonecipher, who monitors polling and census data.

Ideological issues continue to keep black voters aligned with the Democratic Party, Stonecipher said.

Black voters make up 30 percent of the state’s 2.8 million registered voters — 80 percent of them are registered Democrats, according to state election’s records. Today, they make up slightly more than half of Louisiana’s registered Democrats, a historic event.

Just ten years ago, white voters made up about 60 percent of Democratic Party registration. Today, their numbers have dropped to just below 50 percent — just like statewide Democratic voter registration.

The so-called Reagan Democrats changed party registration to Republican, said Stonecipher, referring to moderate to conservative Democrats who aligned with President Ronald Reagan.

“That’s not going to happen here. They are going to continue to vote more and more Republican and not change (parties) if they are white and over 50,” Stonecipher said.

“People still feel comfortable being a Democrat although they may vote Republican,” Pinsonat said.

“Other race” voters — a category that includes Hispanics and Vietnamese — aren’t signing up in droves with either major party.

Nearly half of “other race” voters are registered with “other parties.” If they do opt for a major political party, it’s more likely Democrat than Republican.

Outside of Florida, Hispanic voters tend to be Democrat largely because of national issues such as immigration, Hogan said.

“As long as the Republican Party continues to exude any type of elitism, and they still do, as long as they are still the Republican Party country club elite, you can imagine minorities would have a natural tendency to go the other way,” Stonecipher said.