Decision 2016: Louisiana’s primary – what does it take to win?

Louisiana is holding its Presidential primary on Saturday, March 5, and early voting is already underway. Given that the race will be held in the aftermath of the 14 state contests on March 1 (also known as “Super Tuesday”) we will undoubtedly get some attention from the candidates. So what does it take for a candidate to win Louisiana? Some “political basics” must first be understood:

Primary realities

In general, Louisiana has an open primary, which means that candidates of all parties run together on the same ballot. The Presidential primary is the one exception: this is a closed primary: only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in their respective primaries.

Presidential primaries, relatively speaking, are low turnout affairs for either party. For Democrats, turnout between 2000-2012 has generally been about 10% of its electorate, with one major exception: Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008 briefly spiked voter turnout, which was more than twice the number of those  who participated in the 2004 Democratic Presidential primary. Even with the increase in turnout, however, only about 26% of Louisiana’s Democrats selected a Presidential candidate that year.

Republicans, on the other hand, have seen their turnout steadily increase, and while 2012 turnout set a record, only 24% of Republicans showed up to select a candidate.

Given these realities, you’re typically talking about a small segment of voters who are likely to show up on March 5 to select a President.

How a Democratic candidate wins:

Quite simply, black voters are a dominant part of the Democratic electorate. When Barack Obama was first on the ballot in 2008, whites comprised 53% of registered Democrats. Today, blacks make up 53% of registered Democrats. This demographic reality helped Barack Obama defeat Clinton 57-36% in the 2008 primary, carrying 66 (out of 105) House districts and 26 (out of 39) Senate districts. But indications from last Saturday’s Nevada Democratic caucus are that Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly carried the black vote, and if that remains the case, a united black vote, plus the fact that few parts of Louisiana would support an avowed socialist like Bernie Sanders, makes Clinton the likely (and overwhelming) winner of the Democratic primary.

2008 Democratic Presidential Primary

2008 Democratic Presidential Primary









How a Republican candidate wins:

Louisiana’s Republican electorate (currently 28% of the total) tends to favor religious conservatives: Mike Huckabee (in 2008) and Rick Santorum (in 2012) carried the state, and their patterns of support were fairly similar. Republican operatives would be wise to note how they won.

In 2012, Rick Santorum decisively carried Louisiana 49-27% over Mitt Romney, although it’s worth noting that the Baton Rouge (48-27% Santorum) and New Orleans media markets (45-29% Santorum) were the only regions of the state where he did not attain an absolute majority. This “very conservative vs less conservative” split was especially apparent in 2008. While Mike Huckabee (the favorite of religious conservatives) carried the state 43-42% over John McCain in the primary, his support varied considerably by media market. The more moderate McCain carried the New Orleans media market 49-35%, but he also received a 44-38% plurality in the Baton Rouge media market and a 42-41% plurality in Lafayette. Outside of those three areas, Huckabee dominated, with absolute majorities in Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport, and Monroe – his combined vote in those four media markets was 55-34% over McCain.

2008 Republican Presidential Primary

2008 Republican Presidential Primary









2012 Rep

2012 Republican Presidential Primary









How can the results of these two elections be applied to the 2016 contest? Given apparent patterns of support from the first three Presidential contests, Marco Rubio attracts more affluent/moderate urban and suburban voters (although some of that vote is likely to go to John Kasich), which puts him in a strong position in the Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Lafayette media markets. The smaller media markets to the north and west, on the other hand, are likely to favor Donald Trump, with Ted Cruz running not far behind. Overall, Trump is likely in a strong position to win the state, while Rubio and Cruz will be fighting it out for second place. While Cruz has an aggressive “get out the vote” apparatus, he now has to face negative voter psychology from finishing in third place in three consecutive contests (New Hampshire, South Carolina, and now Nevada).


The fact that Louisiana has a closed Presidential primary means that both Democratic and Republican strategists need to be more specific about how they position their candidate if they want to be victorious on March 5, since only a narrow segment of (more ideologically inclined) voters typically participates in each party’s primary.