Demographic changes in East Baton Rouge Parish – A quarter century “look back”

The Baton Rouge area is one part of Louisiana that does not have a well-defined image: John Maginnis once noted that “it was formed and is still largely controlled by outside forces.” Even today, it is inhabited by a “gumbo” of different groups: a large black minority of all economic strata, a significant professional population, the influence of state government, the presence of academia, the religious conservative influence from several large churches, a significant Catholic population, and a large and relatively well-paid blue collar workforce employed by the petrochemical industry.

The composition of this “gumbo” differs depending on each parish within the Baton Rouge metropolitan area. Specifically, continued growth means that settlement/migration patterns favor Republicans in the suburban parishes, while East Baton Rouge Parish has become somewhat of an “urban core.” From a political standpoint, this means that a parish that was once more Republican than Louisiana as a whole is noticeably trending Democratic. Since we have detailed voter registration data going all the way back to 1988, we can analyze these changes over the last quarter of a century in East Baton Rouge Parish.


Going back in time

A generation ago, only a few parishes in Louisiana were politically competitive. East Baton Rouge was one of those parishes, as it was the first parish to elect a Republican sheriff in 1983, even as it contributed to the Edwards landslide in his race that year against Dave Treen. However, EBR was faithful to the Republican Party when it came to Presidential politics, and with one exception (1996) it consistently voted Republican between 1972 and 2004.

The 1988 Presidential election (the first Presidential election for which we have detailed data) was actually competitive that year in Louisiana: lingering economic woes from the oil price crash of the mid 1980s created a restive electorate, and Republican George H.W. Bush only carried Louisiana 54-44% (his weakest showing in the entire Deep South). In East Baton Rouge, however, Bush did much better, with a sizable 59-40% lead over Democrat Michael Dukakis.

In both 2008 and 2012, however, East Baton Rouge was one of a handful of parishes to support Barack Obama. To appreciate what has changed since then requires an understanding of the different parts of East Baton Rouge Parish.


Understanding East Baton Rouge

EBR Simple










Historically, the settlement patterns in East Baton Rouge Parish have differed depending on whether a neighborhood was north or south of Florida Boulevard (a major east west route spanning the width of the parish). South of Florida is generally where the professional/white collar population lives, while the blue collar workers employed by the numerous petrochemical plants reside north of Florida. There is an additional variable to these settlement patterns: Louisiana law allows municipalities to create their own school districts (assuming legislative and voter approval). As a result, the municipalities of Baker, Zachary, and Central have created separate school districts. Of these new districts, the Central and Zachary districts have been considered more desirable, and there has accordingly been some white collar/south Baton Rouge migration into these areas, so we have separated out these areas for our analysis.

South Baton Rouge (which in this article we are defining as all areas south of Florida Boulevard) has historically been the Republican bastion of the parish, and even today, it almost always elects Republicans, although demographic changes and a more liberal political hue in neighborhoods near LSU and City Park have slightly moderated the area’s politics. North Baton Rouge was historically more of a swing vote: inclined to vote for Republicans in national elections, while retaining some affinity for labor friendly Democrats at the local level. Because this part of the parish has seen substantial racial change over the past generation, very little of the original blue collar voting base remains, so this area is solidly Democratic in all elections.

While Central and Zachary are technically are north of Florida Boulevard, the politics of each area deserves special mention. Central has become more staunchly conservative over the years in all elections, and actually provides more substantial margins for Republican candidates than South Baton Rouge does. Zachary leans Republican, but between its substantial black population and recent migrations, its politics tends to be more moderate.


East Baton Rouge then (1988) and now (2012)

1988 results by EBR region

1988 results by EBR region







1988 was a “high water mark” for the Republican presidential vote in East Baton Rouge Parish. Not only was George H.W. Bush’s 59-40% lead five percentage points higher than his statewide average, but it was a percentage that has not since been exceeded – after 1988, the best Republican presidential candidate performance parish wide was in the 2004 election, when George W. Bush carried the parish 54-45% over John Kerry. Furthermore, starting with that (2004) election, East Baton Rouge Parish no longer was more Republican than the state as a whole.

So how were the Republicans able to roll up such a large margin? The demographics were different: in 1988, East Baton Rouge Parish was 73-27% white/black by voter registration, while voter participation was 74-26% white/black. If we were to examine the Presidential vote by race, the black precincts preferred Dukakis over Bush 92-6%, while the white precincts favored Bush 76-24% over Dukakis.

From a geographic standpoint, Central led the way with 77% preference for George H.W. Bush, while South Baton Rouge favored him 69-30%. Outside of the black and white liberal neighborhoods in this area, however, South Baton Rouge was even more one sided (78-21%) for Bush. Zachary also mildly preferred Bush 58-40%, while North Baton Rouge (which back then was 51% black by voter registration) favored Dukakis 60-39%.

2012 results by EBR region

2012 results by EBR region







By 2012, the East Baton Rouge demographics had changed substantially in several ways: (1) black voter registration increased from 27% to 43% of the electorate between 1988 and 2012, (2) the influence of Hispanics/Asians went from 0 to 5% of the electorate, and (3) neighborhoods between College Drive and City Park developed a more noticeable white liberal voting base. That is how a parish that gave 59% of the vote to George HW Bush in 1988 gave 47% of the vote to Mitt Romney in 2012.

From a racial standpoint, the vote in the black precincts went from 92-6% to 97-2% Democratic between 1988 and 2012. And the white precincts, which went 76-24% for Bush in 1988, only voted 65-33% for Romney in 2012. While most of this Democratic trend was due to the fact that East Baton Rouge Parish has become more racially diverse, there’s an additional factor at play: “Garden District” precincts roughly between College Drive and City Park have politically moved towards the left, and even though they only represent 6% of the parish electorate, in today’s closely divided East Baton Rouge Parish, that 6% can swing an election. To illustrate, these “white liberal” precincts voted 65-34% for George HW Bush in 1988 but only 53-42% for Mitt Romney.

From looking at the various regions of Baton Rouge, we can get a detailed appreciation of how East Baton Rouge Parish’s politics has changed. The most substantial demographic change has been in North Baton Rouge – an area that was 51% black by voter registration became 84% black by 2012. Accordingly, its Democratic percentage rose from 60 to 90% between 1988 and 2012. The partisan numbers in Zachary were surprisingly similar, despite its black voter registration increasing from 29 to 38%: George H.W. Bush carried this part of the parish 58-40%, while Mitt Romney led by a similar 56-42%. This similar vote (despite the 9% increase in black voter registration) is most likely because the white migration has come from heavily Republican parts of south Baton Rouge due to the excellent reputation of the Zachary schools.

Racial change, combined with a developing white liberal voter base, has similarly diluted the Republican percentages in South Baton Rouge: its black voter registration increased from 13 to 24%, and while the area voted 69-30% for George H.W. Bush in 1988, Mitt Romney carried it by a reduced 61-37% margin in 2012. That leaves us with Central: this part of town actually became MORE Republican over the past quarter century, despite the fact that its black voter population actually doubled, from 5 to 10%. George HW Bush carried the area 77-22%, while Mitt Romney won by an even more one sided 83-15%.



While the Baton Rouge area has been steadily growing, that growth goes hand in hand with demographic changes. In other words, even though there is a more diverse migration stream to Livingston and Ascension Parishes, by and large, the migration to those parishes has been predominately white, which means that the black population (both in absolute numbers and percentage) of East Baton Rouge Parish will increase over time.