Racial Voting and Racial Threat Theory in Louisiana

Below is an excerpt from a longer paper which outlined the diversity of the state of Louisiana.  The section below examines the phenomena of racial voting in this state.   

“Louisiana has been a fairly solid Republican voting state since the 1980s. Louisiana did, however, brake rank with the other southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi and voted Democrat in 1992 and 1996. Bill Clinton was able to win Louisiana in in these years as a Democrat for a few reasons. Clinton’s win in the state in 1992 was largely due to the influence of Ross Perot. Clinton won 46% of the vote and Perot won 12% thus giving Clinton the plurality over George H. W Bush. Clinton’s win in Louisiana was also due in part to the fact that he and his running mate were Southerners (Saal, 1993). Clinton won in 1996 won for a number of other reasons. The economy prospering and Clinton’s adoption of some accepted republican policies on welfare, immigration and crime helped ensure him 53% of the vote in the state. As we entered into the twentieth century Louisiana came back to the Republican Party. Al Gore was not able to use his birth place of Tennessee to his advantage. He lost the southern states such as Louisiana because he was framed as a Washington Insider who was removed from his Southern roots. George W. Bush was governor of Texas at the time and used that to his advantage in the south. These reasons as well as the fact that Gore’s ideas were also ideologically to the left of Clinton ensured his loss in Louisiana (Perez-Pena, 2000). In 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry took heat for implying that he had conceded the south to President Bush (Tapper, 2004). President Bush was able to use his 2000 advantage in Louisiana and the idea of Kerry as a New England liberal on his way to an substantial win in the state. Barack Obama lost Louisiana in 2008 as well. This result came as no surprise to most scholars because of the Louisiana’s recent history of Republican voting.

When looking at exit polls from 2004 and 2008 we see a definitive advantage for republican in the white demographic. In fact, Louisiana became more republican as the nation as a whole shifted more towards the Democratic party.  The 75% Republican white voting rate of 2004 and 84% rate of 2008 are both well above the national average of Republican white voting of 58% and 55% in 2004 and 2008 respectively. A possible explanation for this shift in Louisiana is the phenomena of racial voting.  The next section of this paper will look at this phenomena and later we will look at what role racial politics played in Louisiana in the 2008 general presidential election.

Racial Voting

While we as a nation have come a long way in promoting equality and acceptance, racial discrimination still exists in America. This is especially true in states in the south including Louisiana. Traces of racism and white supremacy still find their way into main stream politics.

Courtesy of bossip.com

Courtesy of bossip.com

Perhaps the most startling example of this is David Duke. Duke served in the House of Representatives from 1990 to 1992 and nearly was elected to the US senate in 1992. Duke was strongly against affirmative action and campaigned for equality and against the discrimination of white people. As a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and founder of the Nation Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) he was able to attract people who had these same types of feeling towards affirmative action and other programs they felt favored minority groups. Duke’s anti affirmative action stances seemed tame compared to his extreme anti-sematic views and celebration of Hitler.

Despite Duke’s obvious roots in anti-minority groups he was able to garner 57.9% of the white vote in the 1990 Louisiana Senate race (Palmpuist & Voss, 1996). If this number was not astounding enough there is also the fact that no fewer than 23.3 percent of registered democrats voted for Duke as well (Palmpuist & Voss, 1996). This number is especially significant given that the number of African-American democrats that voted for Duke was probably close to zero. Perhaps what is most telling about the example of David Duke is that when he was running for Senator of Louisiana he was already a member of Congress through special election. This example shows us that attitudes of racism and discrimination are still present in Louisiana. These sentiments have existed for hundreds of years and have translated into a republican advantage in the Deep South.

While Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” is often seen as the shift in partisanship of white voters in the south Bejarano and Segura (2007) argue that the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 both led to a strong shift in white partisanship in the south from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. If either party is identified as willing to use government power to push for equality for blacks, white southerners would most likely vote against that party (Brewer & Stonecash, 2001). The Republican Party has consistently won the white vote in Louisiana dating back to the Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. This shift or trend can even be seen in white voters who economic situation may be better suited with Democratic policies (Bejarano & Segura, 2007). Bejarano & Segura also point out that candidates of color in both parties have a much more difficult time support of white voters. The authors use the case of Republican Bobby Jindal in the 2003 gubernatorial race. Jindal, a nonwhite candidate, was seen as having lost because he, instead of convincing the white voters that he had there best interest in mind, tried to connect with minority voters (Bejarano & Segura, 2007). Jindal’s attempt to use his ethnicity to his advantage and steal some minority votes ended up losing him white votes. Jindal’s race being a factor in his gubernatorial run along with the fact that Republican David duke in 1990 garnered 23% of the overall democratic vote in 1990 may suggest is that race matters more in Louisiana politics than partisanship. Race and Party however are somewhat interchangeable in Louisiana given the partisan affiliations of the respective races.

2008 Presidential Election

Louisiana’s history of racial voting was also seen in the 21st century as well. The racial partisan split has ballooned to the current 84% white support for the Republican John McCain in 2008. 84% was up from the also incredibly high figure of 75% in 2004. This drop in white support for the Democratic candidate from 2004 to 2008 in Louisiana was the largest drop among all states (Tilove, 2008). This section of the paper will examine why the racial gap spread from 2004 to 2008 and whether or not it had a significant impact on the election.

The widening racial gap is also illustrated in figure 1 which shows the media market PVIs from 2004 and 2008.

Media Markets  Votes for Bush  2004  2004 PVI  Votes for McCain 2008  2008 PVI

Shreveport               127,064                           R+ 8                    129,400                R+ 12

Monroe                     100,889                           R+14                   101,622          R+16

Lake Charles             71,920                           R+10                    79,848          R+20

Lafayette                   147,064                          R+11                   165,357          R+18

Baton Rouge           208,773                           R+7                     227,268         R+11

Alexandria                73,325                            R+16                     80,446         R+22

Orleans                    372,945                           R+3                      364,924         R+11

Every media market in Louisiana shifted more towards the Republican side. The state PVI went up from R+7 in 2004 to R+13 in 2008. These figures run against the fact that Barack Obama did better amongst white voters nationwide than John Kerry or Al Gore. Obama’s performance amongst white voters in 2008 gave hope to the concept of post racial voting in America (Donovan, 2010). The post racial voting concept is ruined, however, when we look at Obama’s poor performance amongst white voters in the south (Tilove, 2008).

The major theory that is used to explain this very apparent lack of support for Barack Obama in the south is the “Racial Threat Theory”. Leading up to the 2008 election there was a lot of attention put on Obama’s race. Sen. Clinton made the initiative to point out the fact that a white president was able to get civil rights legislation passed (Donovan, 2010). Later in the campaign images surfaced on the internet of Obama in traditional Somali Robes, again drawing attention to Obama’s “differentness”. Rumors that Obama was a member of the nation of Islam also circulated around popular media. All of this translated to a discontent for Barack Obama amongst the most conservative voters in the country.
The “Racial Threat Theory” holds most ground in states with the highest percentage of African Americans. Research from Donovan (2010) shows that African American population correlates with how whites evaluate Democratic candidates. In areas of high African American populations whites evaluated candidates in a manner that depressed white support for an African American candidate. This was especially true in areas where the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has justified the use of majority-minority districts (Donovan, 2010). Obama did much better with white voters in relatively homogeneous states.”

This examination shows us that racial politics still exist in Louisiana and other southern states.  It is both interesting and sad that this still takes place.  We are not in a post racial democracy yet.  We still have much work to do.  

Bejarano, C., & Segura, G. (2007). What Goes Around Comes Around: Race, Blowback, and the Louisiana Elections of 2002 and 2003. Political Research Quarterly, 328-337.

Brewer, M., & Stonecash, J. (2001). Class, Race Issues, and Declining White Support for the Democratic Party in the South. Political Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 2, June , 131-155.

Donovan, T. (2010). Obmaa and the White Vote. Political Research Quarterly, 863-874.

Palmpuist, B., & Voss, D. S. (1996). Racial Polarization and Turnout in Louisiana: New insight from Aggregate Data Analysis. Political Science Association, 1-36.

Perez-Pena, R. (2000, November 9). THE 2000 ELECTIONS: TENNESSEE; Loss In Home State Leaves Gore Depending on Florida. The New York Times.

Saal, M. A. (1993, January 1). Bill Clinton’s Presidential Campaign. Washington Monthly.

Tilove, J. (2008, November 8). Obama made inroads with white voters except in Deep South. The Times-Picayune, p. 2008.

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