In a previous article, we had analyzed voter registration trends in various swing states for the purpose of understanding what voter sentiment really is this year. Even though Louisiana is not a swing state (it is one of only three states that has steadily voted more Republican in every Presidential election since 1996), we thought that it was worth examining anyway.
Despite the fact that John McCain easily carried the state 59-40% over Barack Obama in 2008 (only 7 states gave Obama a lower percentage of the vote), Democrats did have some success in terms of voter registration and increased turnout that year, and one parish in particular (East Baton Rouge) voted for Obama purely the basis on a strong early vote for him.
For our analysis, we looked at the first 7 months of voter registration activity in 2012, and compared it against a similar time period in 2008 and 2004 so that we could get a feel for “normal” voter registration activity. Here are the highlights of what we found:
The decline of the white Democrat
The chart above is the best way to explain the changing Louisiana electorate. Even though most of the state’s elections have been conducted under an open primary system since the 1970s, the Democratic Party was for a long time the dominant party in the state, and Louisiana once was a swing state in Presidential elections. Since the 2000 Presidential election, that has no longer been the case. Republican Presidential candidates have been carrying the state by increasing margins, and Republican voter identification has been steadily increasing as well. And as voter preferences have moved towards the Republicans, party voter registration has also changed as well. Where this change has been most notable has been the continued and steady decline in the number of white Democrats. A decade ago, 931,000 white Democrats (34% of the electorate) were registered to vote. That number has steadily declined since then, and the August 1 voter registration statistics only show 659,000 registered voters who are white Democrats – a much lower 23% of the electorate. Even more troubling for the Democrats is that this number is not being “propped up” with reinforcements: the average age of a white Democrat is 57 years old, compared to 47 for Republicans and 40 for Independents.
A black majority Democratic Party
While Louisiana has been getting more Republican, black voter registration has similarly increased: over the last decade, their influence in the electorate has gone from 29 to 31% of registered voters. And as white Democrats steadily leave the Democratic Party, this means that within the Democratic Party, black Democrats are now the majority. To put this in perspective, as recently as 4 years ago, whites had a 53-45% majority among registered Democrats. Today, the membership of the Louisiana Democratic party is 50-47% black.
A Republican plurality among white voters
There is another side effect of the steady exodus of white Democratic voters: Republicans now have a plurality among white voters, and it has been that way for the past two years. When you consider how dominant the Democratic Party once was in this state, this itself is news – when President Obama was inaugurated, Democrats statewide had a 40-37% plurality among white voters. Today, Republicans have a 39-35% plurality.
And now, the 2012 analysis
So how active has either party been with registering their voters? For the first 7 months of 2012, about 28K voters (out of 2.89 million) have been added to the rolls, and of that addition, blacks have been out registering whites 52-39%. From a party registration perspective, Democrats have lost 8K voters (17K less white Democrats combined with 9K more black Democrats), Republicans have gained 18K voters, and Independents have gained 17K voters. Incidentally, the black majority is entirely due to overwhelmingly black voter registration in four parishes: Caddo, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, and Orleans.
To put these figures in perspective, during the first 7 months of 2008, about 43K new voters were registered, and blacks out registered whites 62-27%. In partisan terms, there were 20K new Democrats added to the rolls, 22K Republicans, and 1K Independents. Furthermore, if you were to go back to the first 7 months of 2004, about 48K registered to vote, and whites out registered blacks 53-36%. So to put all of this in perspective, black voter registration this year, while healthy, is 46% less than it was in 2008.
We would like to show you graphically where voter registration activity has been more (or less) robust in each parish so far this year.
It is true that voter registration in Louisiana does not matter this year on a national level – there are no statewide races, and Louisiana is not expected to be contested by either Presidential candidate. However, it is worthwhile to study how voter registration has been trending, since voter registration trends are a fairly good reflection of the direction the Louisiana electorate is moving. As blacks and Republicans each become a larger proportion of the Louisiana electorate, the white Democrat is becoming a rarer species – only 16% of white voters under the age of 30 is registering Democratic, while in the meantime, the pool of white Democrats has shrunk 29% over the last decade.