The Trump effect, the city/rural divide and Lafayette’s 2019 election postmortem

The 2019 election season is officially under wraps, showcasing hard-fought campaigns and matched enthusiasm among voters. Here’s a breakdown of the results.

Turnout

Lafayette had exceptionally high turnout based on recent trends, beating turnout rates for our last three gubernatorial races. In Lafayette, 78,177 people cast a vote for 50.9% turnout, an increase of 11,280 voters over the primary, and more than 10% from 2015. Statewide, 1.5 million voters participated, or 50.7%, an increase of more than 165,000 over the primary. Early voting numbers explain some of that increase, with big pushes across the political spectrum to get out the vote early. 

The Trump Effect

Typically, Louisiana only sees such high turnout rates in a gubernatorial election when there is an open seat being contested. For instance, Lafayette Parish had 54.9% turnout in 2003 when Kathleen Blanco successfully squared off against Bobby Jindal. However, the national attention drawn to this race spurred interest, with outside money flowing in and three visits to the state from President Trump. The president’s visit did appear to increase turnout. However, the ground game from both parties was intensified, with Gov. Edwards clinching a successful reelection bid by mobilizing black and women voters in urban areas.

The Red Wave

While Edwards held onto the governorship, the state Legislature took a hard turn to the right. Republicans secured a supermajority in the Senate and fell just two seats short in the House. With larger Republican majorities, the Acadiana delegation can apply greater pressure to secure funding for regional projects. If Democrats in the House vote as a unified block, they can protect the governor’s powers by preventing legislative overrides of vetoes. Even so, there will be a tense struggle between the Legislature and governor over key issues, including taxes and spending. 

Mayor-President

In Lafayette, the local mayor-president race saw increased turnout, especially in the unincorporated precincts and also in Broussard, Youngsville and Carencro. Josh Guillory picked up all the precincts that were won by Simone Champagne in the primary. While Alm-LaBar managed to pick up four precincts won by Guillory in the primary, Guillory picked up 12 won by Alm-LaBar. Simone Champagne and Nancy Marcotte effectively delivered their voters to Josh in the runoff. An additional increase in turnout in the unincorporated areas aided Guillory. Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter’s eleventh-hour endorsement of Alm-LaBar seemed to have minimal effect on converting voters in the Youngsville area. Given how late it came, it is likely that few heard about it, and those who did had already made up their minds or cast their votes. 

All Politics Is Local, Right? 

Across the country, increasingly local politics has become polarized. Even in Lafayette, mayor-president and council candidates staked positions on their support for or against President Trump. The mayor-president runoff squared off of a Republican and no-party candidate. While Alm-LaBar’s “no party” campaign drew support across the political spectrum — in terms of fundraising, volunteers and votes — evidence of national trends still showed up in this race. For instance, of the 43 Lafayette precincts that went for Edwards, all but one voted in favor of Alm-LaBar. Of the 84 precincts that voted for Rispone, all but three went for Guillory. 

Partisan Sorting and the City-Parish Divide

Even when party politics isn’t the focus of a campaign, partisan sorting at the national level has trickled down. In recent years, political parties have become more ideologically consistent, with conservatives aligning with Republicans and liberals aligning with Democrats. On top of that trend, parties have also sorted along numerous different identities, including race, religion, class and, especially, geography, with rural and urban voters sorting along partisan lines. 

Based on results from recent election years, there has been a clear divide between the city of Lafayette and the rest of the parish. While many have wondered whether that divide is a result of different priorities or partisan politics, today we can see evidence of both. To some extent, this divide stretches back to the vote on consolidation in 1992, when the city voted in favor of consolidation, and parish voters opposed the measure. When a deconsolidation proposal appeared on the ballot in 2011, those groups swapped positions, with the city favoring the split. In 2018, the library millage renewal and the charter amendments also broke along those familiar city-parish lines.    

In rough, geographic terms, in the mayor-president contest, Alm-LaBar dominated the Northside and the city’s urban core to Bertrand Drive. Outside of that area, Guillory took most of the remainder of the city’s precincts, as well as most precincts outside of the city. The results show the familiar trends of partisan sorting witnessed nationwide. Urban areas with a higher proportion of lower socio-economic households and racial diversity vote differently than those in more rural, affluent, and white communities. We have sorted along so many lines that it’s difficult to untangle the threads linking policy priorities from partisan allegiances. 

Looking Ahead

In January, separate city and parish councils will take up these distinct sets of priorities with a deeply strained and entangled budget. Though there was much talk on the campaign trails about separating the mayor and president offices, it will take support from both councils to move that proposal forward. In the meantime, the councils will be juggling demands on their budgets, including pressures from the sheriff’s office, funding recently approved pay increases, and ever-present infrastructure and drainage backlogs. This first year will be a sharp test of consolidated government and a barometer by which to measure the future of LCG.

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About the Author

Christie Maloyed is an associate professor of political science at UL Lafayette.

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