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Low turnout in Louisiana polls

By Aziz Haniffa in New Orleans, Louisiana
Last updated on: November 16, 2003 09:48 IST
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Despite unusually balmy weather (high 78, low 54), Louisiana recorded a low voter turnout in Saturday's run off between Piyush 'Bobby' Jindal and Kathleen Babineaux Blanco for the post of Governor.

 The turnout was estimated at 45 per cent.

Traditionally, a low turnout in the state favors Republicans. The 'Bubbas', the white conservatives, tend to turn out in force for the Republicans; it is the black voter turnout that drives up the numbers.

Thus, a low turnout could indicate a low black participation; since blacks have traditionally favored Democrats, a low black turnout could theoretically favours Jindal.

Yet, Jindal's campaign headquarters in New Orleans treated the low turnout with mixed feelings. While outwardly confident that their man would win, members of the Jindal campaign told this correspondent that Blanco's strong comeback in the last days of the campaign indicated an unusually close race, and that the low turnout could prove a decisive factor.

Pre-election polls indicated that Jindal led comfortably in northern and central Louisiana (51 percent, to Blanco's 37 percent). He led narrowly in the New Orleans metro area, while Blanco was comfortably ahead of Jindal (53 per cent to 40 per cent) in the Arcadia region that is her home base.

A Garnett newspapers poll of late last week had, similarly, indicated that Jindal had a tremendous advantage among white male voters (66 per cent to 26 for Blanco); and a more slender, yet sizeable advantage among white women voters (56-32).

Among black males, Blanco held the advantage 79-14; that advantage was equally marked among black female voters (78-10).

Another key is the undecideds. Jindal's camp had hoped to woo this segment with a strong issue-based campaign; the low turnout could indicate that the undecideds, by and large, decided to remain at home.

Louisiana has historically boasted natural political divisions; an important one is by religion. Catholic Cajun parishes cast around 30 per cent of the total votes (Blanco is Cajun); the New Orleans region casts around 25 per cent; and the Protestant parishes, from Baton Rouge on up north, cast 45 per cent.

Per the 2000 census, Louisiana has a total population of 4,468,976.

Whites make up 2,794,391, or 62.5 per cent of the total; blacks are 1,443,390 (32.3 per cent); Asians comprise 54,256 (1.2 per cent); the only other significant ethnic group is Hispanic, with 107,739 (2.4 per cent).

The state has an urban population of 72.7 per cent and a rural population of 27.3 per cent.

In terms of voter registration, the state is overwhelmingly Democratic, with 1,572,594 (57.6 per cent) registered Democrats, against 632,430 (23.2 per cent) registered Republicans.

Despite that seeming superiority, however, incumbent governor Mike Foster, a Republican, had won the 1999 primaries outright, polling 62 per cent of the votes cast against a mere 30 per cent by his chief rival, Democrat William Jefferson.

Interestingly, Jindal is seen as more popular in the state's two most populous cities – New Orleans (484,674) and Baton Rouge (227,818).

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Aziz Haniffa in New Orleans, Louisiana