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The Maroon

Why is Louisiana red?

Nick Reimann

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With only days to go until the presidential election, in Louisiana, polls show that the race has already been decided.

All signs point to Donald Trump winning Louisiana, likely by one of the widest margins of any state. According to FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast, Louisiana is now one of the reddest (most Republican) states in the country, showing Donald Trump with a greater than 99 percent chance of winning the state’s eight electoral votes.

Louisiana’s position as a red state is a recent phenomenon, though. In fact, up until about a decade ago, nearly every election held in the state of Louisiana resulted in a Democrat winning, and this was true at every level of government.

At the presidential level, Louisiana, like much of the Deep South, voted solidly Democratic from about the end of the Reconstruction until around the time of the Civil Rights era. From 1880 to 1960, Louisiana went for the Democratic nominee every election except for 1948, when Strom Thurmond of the States’ Rights Party carried the state, and in 1956, when the popular Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower won reelection.

Sean Cain, Loyola associate professor of political science, attributes this Democratic dominance to the fact that it was the largest party in the South prior to the Civil War. This, combined with black voter suppression, allowed for the party to take over.

It was during this period that blacks accounted for nearly all Republican support in the South, in stark contrast to 2016, where most polls show less than 5 percent support for Donald Trump among this demographic.

The short-lived suffrage for blacks during Reconstruction allowed for Republicans to win many elected offices in Louisiana. It would be a long time until that happened again.

At the state level, Louisiana did not elect a single Republican to the state House of Representatives from 1920 until 1964. Republicans would not be the majority in the house delegation to Washington until December 1, 1995, and a Republican U.S. Senator would not take a seat from Louisiana until David Vitter in 2005.

Only a year after the Republican breakthrough in the U.S. House of Representatives, though, Democrat Bill Clinton won the state in the 1996 presidential election. Louisiana still supported a Democrat for president at this time, with Republican nominee Bob Dole picking up less than 40 percent of the vote.

Again in 2016, a Clinton will appear on the ballot as the Democratic presidential nominee in Louisiana. This time, though, the results on election day will likely be much different.

Cain believes that Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996 and Hillary Clinton’s likely loss in 2016 is a prime case of how southerners’ views of the Democratic Party have changed recently.

“In 1996, Bill Clinton was able to appeal to the rural, small town voter,” Cain said. “After leaving office, the Clintons moved to New York and became more involved with ‘big city’ politics.”

Cain believes the Democratic party over the last couple of decades has moved away from trying to appeal to rural voters, instead focusing on their core of liberal “big city” supporters, not a group one would find a large number of in the South.

Cain says this move is primarily because the Democratic Party doesn’t really need to compete in the South to win anymore, since energizing the liberal urban base has proven to be enough recently.

Barack Obama was able to win both of his elections in 2008 and 2012 without carrying a state in the Deep South (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina).

Still, Louisiana State University journalism professor and former Democratic strategist Robert Mann believes that, even with their current liberal message, Democrats would still stand a chance in the South if they actively campaigned there.

“Obama is not speaking to white southerners. Carrying southern states was not something that he needed to do. I’m not saying he doesn’t care about Louisiana, but he never really needed to pay any attention [politically],” Mann said. “When Bill Clinton was president, he was down here all the time. I mean, he was here all the time. He felt very comfortable here.”

Mann refers to the 1990s, when Clinton served as president, as Louisiana’s swing state period, where both parties actively tried to win the state. This continued on the national level as late as 2000, when Al Gore held rallies in the state. Since then, though, Louisiana has gone Republican in every presidential election and hasn’t been a focus for Democrats, according to Mann.

On the state and local level, though, Republicans were finding it much harder to win at the time. In fact, many parishes which voted solidly Republican on the national level still had Democrats representing them at the state level.

For example, Richland Parish in northern Louisiana, which has gone to the Republican candidate for president in 10 out of the last 11 elections, only had their first Republican representative to the Louisiana state house in February of 2011.

Also, Jackson Parish, which has gone at least 60 percent Republican in the last four presidential elections, just sent their first Republican representative to the Louisiana House in January of 2016.

In fact, at the time Bobby Jindal took office as Louisiana governor in 2008, six of the eight statewide elected offices were held by Democrats. Since this time, Robert Mann says that Democrats in the state have fallen “very fast.”

In 2011, when Bobby Jindal was re-elected, Republicans won every executive office in the state, none even requiring a runoff. This left U.S. senator Mary Landrieu as the only Democrat left holding statewide office. Republicans gained control of every Louisiana statewide elected office following Landrieu’s defeat to Bill Cassidy in 2014.

According to Robert Mann, the sudden collapse of the Democratic Party could have been avoided if Democrats had taken the Republican rise more seriously, with the first signs appearing in the 1960s.

“I think it started in the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement,” Mann said.

Cain also believes that the Civil Rights movement was the beginning of a change in party structure in Louisiana, as well as nationally.

“Democrats, who had always not taken a position on Civil Rights, became the party of them,” Cain said, which then forced the Republicans to change their stance on the issue. “Republicans focused on, not so much segregation policies, but anti-integration, such as opposing affirmative action.”

While the change at the national level took time, the change at the state level happened even slower, due to the long-standing power of the Democratic Party in Louisiana, Cain and Mann say.

Mann also believes that this power caused the Democrats to underestimate the rising Republicans.

“Senator Breaux and I would meet with the Democratic caucus at the Capitol and say, ‘Hey, look, you better organize here. The Republicans are coming after you and if they get a majority, they’re gonna slit your throats,’” Mann said. “They had a substantial majority, and when you’re sitting on a substantial majority when you’ve always had power, when that other party has never had that power, it’s hard to imagine your own extinction.”

Even with the Democrats’ “extinction” and loss of power at every level of government in Louisiana, the actual registration statistics tell a different story, with the Democratic Party still holding the largest party membership among registered voters, according to the Secretary of State.

Also going in Louisiana Democrats’ favor is the 2015 election of John Bel Edwards as governor, after beating out his opponent, Republican senator David Vitter. Even with this win, Cain feels that it shouldn’t be taken as a sign of a larger Democratic comeback.

“John Bel Edwards is probably an anomaly,” Cain said. “Although some parts of the South might become more Democratic with higher educated whites, things are unlikely to change in Louisiana.”

Cain also believes that the unusual circumstances regarding Vitter’s prostitution scandal overwhelmed other issues in the race. In any case, following his loss, Vitter decided not to seek re-election in 2016.

Democrat Foster Campbell, who polls show will likely make the December runoff for senate, sees the open seat as an opportunity for Democrats to win again in Louisiana.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to win,” Campbell said. “I think I can win because I have a lot of Republican friends that’ll vote for me. I have a lot of people that think I have the courage to do the right thing.”

Though experts still see a Campbell victory as a longshot, with FiveThirtyEight giving Louisiana a greater than 85 percent chance of seeing a Republican win the open senate seat, Robert Mann shares some of Campbell’s optimism for the party.

“I don’t think that this is a permanent thing and I think it could change. I don’t think the Republican party should count on it always being like this,” Mann said. “When it comes to social issues, for sure, the Republican Party cannot remain where it is and it has been.”

Despite the fact that Donald Trump is likely to win the state, Mann also doesn’t think that Trump’s ideals will last much longer in Louisiana.

“All those voters 65 and older who are going to be voting for Donald Trump in a couple of days, you know, a lot of them are going to be dead in 10 or 15 years,” said Mann.

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Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola
Why is Louisiana red?