Playing the Odds on Bobby Jindal and the Presidency

May 23, 2014

This week, Clancy Dubos is offering his assessment on why Bobby Jindal will never, ever be president. His analysis is smart and informed and generally on the money, but – at least so far – it is missing the most obvious point. It is unlikely that any single individual will ever be president.

First, betting against Bobby Jindal is the equivalent of taking the field in any major sporting event, so it is the safe and smart bet. Want to bet on the next year’s college football season? I’ll bet LSU doesn’t win the national championship. And, I’ll gladly take the field against the New Orleans Saints in the NFL.  This is also the equivalent of betting before the season even begins. 

Second, play this game: Fill in the blank with the following names: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, or Scott Walker and write an essay on why any of these contenders can never, ever be president. It is pretty easy to detail their flaws. All of these candidates currently have better odds than Bobby Jindal. 

Third, fill in the blank with the former presidents before they ran for president and outline the reasons they shouldn’t have been able to win. Barack Obama should have never beaten Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination, and there were substantial doubts about whether he could overcome voters’ racial prejudice. George W. Bush should have never been able to beat incumbent Vice President Al Gore during a period of strong economic growth. And, Bill Clinton was a little known governor of a small southern state with skeleton full of closets. It is easy to argue that none of them should have won. With Clinton and Obama, it is easy to argue – based on the odds – that they should have never run. 

None of this is to suggest Bobby Jindal will ever win the presidency. I’ll gladly take the field on that bet against Jindal, but it is worth remembering the single most important characteristic successful candidates possess is the delusional belief that they should be president. Bobby Jindal has this in abundance.   

Grading Governor Jindal’s State of the State

March 10, 2014

Let me start with a clarification: I grade political speeches on the basis of the who the elected official is, what they have accomplished, and how they are strategically positioned for the future. Now in his seventh year, Governor Jindal’s influence is waning and we have likely seen the end of “major” legislative accomplishments. Instead, this is a time for defining one’s legacy and not leaving that definition to political opponents, journalists or others who may be less favorable.

This is especially true for Governor Jindal whose tenure has coincided with a relatively strong economic performance compared to national and regional averages but low approval rating. His challenge in this speech and in defining his legacy is to connect Louisiana’s economic outcomes with his policy choices.

On these grounds, the speech worked relatively well. Governor Jindal began by thanking the legislature for its support on ethics reform, tax cuts, and education reform. This allowed Governor Jindal to appear gracious while simultaneously claiming credit for a number of policy initiatives. He then moved into the numbers which fairly portray the Louisiana economy as doing relatively well over the past several years, and followed by personalizing the numbers with eight individual stories. Here is one fact worth keep in mind about effective political communication: Narratives resonate far more effectively than numbers.  Combining narratives and numbers helps to personalize what the statistics mean. While he might have overdone it a bit (do you really need eight stories one right after another?), this was good effort at personalizing his economic record and connecting past success to his current agenda: workforce training and tort reform.

Now the speech will unquestionably be criticized for what it didn’t do. He didn’t address a number of issues that will be important to the legislative session, including (but not limited to) the implementation of common core.  His Democratic detractors will point out the fault lines in the Louisiana economy (and there are plenty) and will take issue with his description of a more prosperous  “new Louisiana.”  Indeed, one might take a number of policy exceptions to the Jindal record and agenda, but as far as speeches go this was not a bad one, well delivered, and on message.


Governor Jindal and the CPAC Straw Poll

March 9, 2014

Given Governor Bobby Jindal’s efforts to garner national attention, his recent showing in the CPAC straw poll offered his political opponents and detractors a hearty bit of laughter. Just don’t laugh too hard, the poll means very little other than that Governor Jindal is mostly an unknown at the national level. Early primary polling – either in the form of straw polls or scientific polling – mostly reflects name recognition and says little more about who might eventually secure the nomination. To the extent that CPAC success is a predictor of the nomination, it is because better recognized candidates also do better in presidential primaries and caucuses and fundraising. 

If Governor Jindal is to emerge from the second tier of Republican presidential possibilities, he needs more time on the national stage. He can’t get there unless he stands out from the crowd which provides his incentive for his over-the-top criticisms of President Obama. This approach may  prove unsuccessful but Jindal is a long-shot for 2016 no matter what approach he takes. His goal is to stay in the mix and hope lightning strikes. If lightning doesn’t strike, he can hope to be in the VP conversation and remain viable for 2020 and beyond.


Louisiana Colleges and Universities in the Public Mind

March 8, 2014

[Koran Addo provided a nice write up in The Advocate of a panel I participated in at the Conference of Louisiana Colleges and Universities on Friday, March 7, 2014. I thought I’d offer the full set of notes here for anyone who might be interested]. 

Presentation Notes for the Conference of Louisiana Colleges and Universities

First, thanks for inviting me here today. My job on the panel is to offer an assessment of how the public thinks about Louisiana colleges and universities, and then offer some guidance on how we might use this information to craft policies and political strategies in support of higher education.  This is a topic that I have given a great deal of thought to but have never fully sketched out. What I offer you today remains a sketch but the forms are beginning to take shape and a picture is beginning to emerge (at least in my head).

Let me start with an assumption that guides nearly everything I do. “In a democracy, we get the government we deserve.”  We can quibble over how democratic we really are later, but for now let’s apply this to Louisiana colleges and universities – and twist the logic around just a little. “We get the universities and colleges we ask for” OR perhaps better stated “we get the colleges and universities we demand.”  The outcomes we live with on a daily basis are not accidental, they reflect a set of political forces, including public opinion, elite political calculations and interest group activity that set boundaries around what is allowable and what is desirable.

With that as the backdrop, let me turn to a puzzle. Since 2002, the Public Policy Research Lab at LSU has been conducting the annual Louisiana Survey.  Each year, we include questions about higher education and each year we find strong support for increasing spending on higher education and/or protecting higher education from budget cuts.  This year, we tied the question to support for a small sales tax increase provided the money went specifically to higher education.

Seventy-two percent of our respondents said yes they would support such a proposal, only 27 percent were opposed.  This is not a partisan issue.  Sixty-six percent of Republicans and Independents also support this proposal.  Now if you are skeptical – and I hope you are – you might be inclined to dismiss this finding as the result of a single biased question in a single survey.  This is decidedly not the case.

In previous years, we have asked different questions but the results are almost always the same. The public wants more – not less – spending on higher education. And when budgets are shrinking, they want higher education protected from cuts.  But don’t believe me, here are some numbers.

  • From the 2013 Louisiana Survey, 82 percent of residents agreed or strongly agreed that the goal of tax reform should offset cuts to health care and higher education
  • From the 2012 survey, 72 percent said improving graduation rates at state universities and colleges are “very important” for economic development
  • From 2011,

–     61 percent wanted no cuts to Louisiana colleges and universities to balance the state budget, only 10% supported “major cuts.”

–     88 percent expressed concern budget cuts would affect quality of academic programs, including 52 percent who said they were very concerned.

–     72 percent supported changing state constitution to protect health care and higher education from cuts

If necessary, we could go back to the 2002. The message would be the same. By and large, the public shows strong and consistent support for higher education that crosses region, partisan affiliation, and ideology.

So if this is true (and I promise that it is) how can policy be so far afield from what the public actually wants? The simplest explanation but one that misses a far more interesting story line is to say the public will is being ignored. That elected officials, especially Governor Bobby Jindal, are willfully disregarding public opinion. But if elected officials are actively disregarding public opinion, where is the outrage? Where is the growing public demand for more funding?

The answer – as unsatisfying as it may be for a university professor – is that while the public supports higher education other issues are generally considered more important.  When we ask the public “what is the most important issue” facing the state, education and the economy top the list while “higher education” barely merits a mention. In this year’s survey, one person identified higher education as the state’s most important issue. And while the public supports more funding for higher education, it generally finishes third (or lower) on a list of public priorities behind education and health care. When it comes to budget cuts, the public generally wants K-12 and health care protected first.

In the language of public opinion research, we would say that while there is strong directional support for increased funding, it is neither highly salient nor especially intense. In everyday language, we would say support is wide but not very deep. Or perhaps stated even more plainly, despite occasional protests, no mob is storming the state capitol gates for increased funding for higher education.


There is another dimension to this puzzle that is perplexing. Despite the cuts and despite the best efforts of many of the people in this room, the public largely thinks colleges and universities are doing OK, or at least better than other areas of state government service.  When we have we have asked citizens to grade state government services across a number of different areas, Louisiana’s colleges and universities rate either at the very top or near the top of various state government activities. In the data shown here, more than two-thirds of Louisiana residents (66.8 percent) gave Louisiana universities and colleges an A or B in our 2011 survey. Overall, this is an area of state government service that people believe is doing fairly well.  So why worry about funding in area that is at least doing OK?

To make matters worse, it is not clear that citizens believe that Louisiana’s colleges and universities can get much better. In Spring 2008 just as Governor Bobby Jindal was beginning his first term, we asked citizens whether the state could make major improvements over the next four years, whether the state could make some improvements but that major improvements would be difficult, or whether it would be hard to any real improvements across thirteen separate issue areas. Citizens expressed the least optimism about the possibility of improving the national rankings of Louisiana state colleges and universities. Only sixteen percent thought major improvements were possible.  Translation: State colleges and universities are doing OK, and we can’t do much to improve them anyway.  My interpretation: There is no great public demand for a higher level of performance.

So what do residents value about Louisiana colleges and universities? Affordability and access. Let’s start with access. For years we have heard that Louisiana has too many four year colleges and universities and not enough technical and community colleges. In several previous studies, we tested the statements together and found mixed support.  When we finally wised up and tested the items separately, we found out the public only buys into half of the equation. Sixty-three percent of residents agree that we do not have enough technical and community colleges while sixty-eight percent disagree that we have too many four year institutions.  We want more of everything. Rather than read this as specific policy agreement, however, I would argue the results reflect the value the public places on access to higher education opportunities. We want access.

And we want that access to be affordable. The evidence here is indirect but to my mind convincing. When given the choice in the 2012 survey between allowing “colleges and universities to increase tuition to offset budget cuts” OR limiting “tuition increases to assure colleges remain affordable,” an overwhelming majority – 85 percent – want to limit tuition increases. In this year’s survey, when asked whether they would support or oppose a proposal allowing colleges and universities to set tuition without state legislative approval, 59 percent said they were opposed.

Similarly, the public rejects the idea that the total amount of TOPS award should be limited. Nearly three-quarters of residents opposed “reducing the total amount of money qualified students receive from the TOPS program.” There is more support for increasing the academic requirements or providing a flat monetary award not tied to tuition but in both these instances there is also substantial opposition.  Let me make two related points here. First, the findings reinforce the value the public places on access and affordability. Second, the findings illustrate the importance of citizen demand on policy outcomes. We will cut higher education funding despite what looks like overwhelming public opposition but we have not yet been willing to alter the TOPS funding formula. The reasoning is very simple the public uproar should TOPS be cut would be much louder.

Before I wrap, I want to return to an important point. The value of college education  – not just for the individual but for community. First, a recent report by the Pew Research Center shows a growing disparity between median annual incomes of high school and college graduates by generation. For each generation, the gap has grown. We all know this. Second, and more importantly, is the effect on local communities. The percent of residents with a college education is the most reliable predictor of a community’s economic success. You might have known this as well, but here is what I think is most interesting. People with less education do better in more educated communities. We have to think about our impact not just at an individual level but at a community level and not just in the communities our institutions are located in – but in every community in the state.

Now let me wrap it up with these conclusions.

  1. We get the colleges and university we demand, so we have created a system based on access and affordability.
  2. If we want to change that system, changing leadership is not enough. We have to change the conversation. To do this, we need a public education campaign to convince the public to think differently about Louisiana’s university and colleges.
  3. This starts with economic development and moving away from the tagline that going to college is important to individual economic success. It is, but it is also important for a community’s economic success.  
  4. We have to extend to this to community engagement because – if we are doing our jobs – we are also creating community leaders and the consequences are not just better and higher paying jobs but stronger communities with better, more engaged citizens. Imagine a map of Louisiana showing every college graduate from LSU or from the University of Louisiana system and their level of political and civic engagement. How powerful would that be?  
  5. Finally, we need to demonstrate need in a way that connects to citizens and we need to show them how investing in higher education can yield a payoff. Over the past several years as we have watched our state funding shrink, I have had countless conversations with people outside of academics who say “bet you are glad, they saved you on the budget this year.” It is easy to say the public doesn’t get it, it is much harder to figure out how to convince them that it does matter and that it matters to them in a very personal way. This, to me, is the fundamental challenge in creating a more vibrant and sustainable system of colleges and universities.


The Jindal Play

February 25, 2014

I am more forgiving of politicians than most people. They are not the arm chair quarterbacks but the players in the game. They risk derision on a regular basis and live with public contempt toward politics and politicians.

With this in mind, I try not to react to events with a partisan lens but with a series of questions. What was the politician trying to accomplish? Were they successful? To draw on the sports analogy, I don’t find it useful to ask why a running team isn’t throwing the ball when they are clearly trying to establish the run.

Governor Jindal’s latest foray onto the national seen has drawn its usual jeers, but such reactions miss the better questions. What was he trying to accomplish? And did he succeed?

To understand Governor Jindal, you must start with ambition. Whether he runs in 2016 or not, he wants to be in the list of possibilities. Even if they go realized, he has presidential ambitions. To get there, he must find a way to separate himself from a pack of Republicans that includes better known and more seasoned politicians. The Jindal “cheap shot” serves two purposes: (1) It attracts media attention from journalists who can’t resist conflict; and (2) It feeds red meat to partisan Republicans who want someone to stand up and fight harder.

Does it get Governor Jindal any closer to the presidency? Probably not, but it does make him the subject of the conversation. The media covering the story and the Democrats denouncing him are playing into his hands. Don’t expect any thank you notes but he does appreciate you.

New Polling Numbers for Jindal and Landrieu

August 19, 2013

New polling numbers are out today gauging Governor Bobby Jindal’s approval rating and the 2014 Senate election. Here is my quick take: 

  • The numbers are from a Republican polling firm, OnMessage Inc. Partisan polling firms can be quite good, so there is no reason to dismiss the numbers out of hand. Partisan pollsters, however, don’t always tell everything they know. What is released is generally released as part of a political strategy. What is not released is often more important as it informs decisions behind the scenes.  
  • The new numbers put Governor Jindal’s approval rating at 50%. The last reported numbers – by Southern Media and Opinion Research – had Governor Jindal’s approval rating at 38% in April. Since that time, Governor Jindal has been working to his increase his presence in the state, so it is believable that his approval rating would have increased somewhat. Because different pollsters use different methodologies, it can be difficult to make direct comparisons.  This isn’t to suggests that we should just throw out the results, only that we should expect some variation in polling numbers based on who is conducting the poll, how they define the universe of voters, and how they weight the final results. My guess is that Governor Jindal has improved his standing in Louisiana but the improvement is less than 12 points. 
  • The same survey puts the head-to-head in the U.S. Senate race at 45-41 in favor of incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu. Election numbers are even more problematic than approval ratings because their accuracy depends critically on what we assume about voter turnout. This number mostly confirms what we already know.  This is going to be a highly competitive election. Landrieu holds the advantage because she is better known statewide, she is the incumbent, and she has a reputation for putting the state’s interest ahead of political party, but she will be fighting an unpopular president (in Louisiana), a midterm election cycle that tends to favor the out-party, and a quality opponent (defined by political experience) in Representative Bill Cassidy.   
  • Based on news reports, we don’t have a good sense of where these questions fell in the survey. Order makes a difference as earlier questions can be used to test messages (and “inform” voters) or “prime” voters to think about certain issues or topics. All surveys are potentially subject to this potential design effect, so this is not a broadside against this particular set of numbers.  
  • The only number that really surprises me is the finding that 55% of Louisiana voters support Governor Jindal’s decision to reject the Medicaid Expansion. I haven’t seen any recent polling on the issue, but (1) this strikes me as too high given numbers I have seen in the past and (2) this is a question that is highly sensitive to question wording so understanding the context in which the question was asked is critical. 

My Quick Takes: New Poll Numbers for Landrieu and Jindal

August 1, 2013
  • It is easy enough to make fun of Governor Bobby Jindal’s early poll numbers for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He barely registers as a blip on the presidential wannabe radar. Just remember that at this point (Aug 1, 2013), the most important consideration is simply that he is part of the conversation.   Chris Christie tops the charts at just 15 percent, a solid ten points behind the winner “undecided.”  The reality is that Governor Jindal is unlikely to win the 2016 Republican nomination in 2016, but his horizon also includes 2020 and 2024. The old saying is that “Republicans fall in line, while Democrats fall in love.” If Jindal wants his shot, he’ll need to get in line this cycle to position himself for future campaigns. If this is a sports analogy, Jindal doesn’t look like a first round pick next time around, but he will get a shot at playing in the big leagues. By comparison, Barack Obama wasn’t mentioned in most of the 2005 polls when bigger, more established names – Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Evan Bayh and others – defined the field. The earliest poll number that I could find for Obama (Gallup, Nov 2004) placed him at 3%. In December 2005 (six months ahead of our current schedule), Obama polled just 7%, finishing 5th behind Hilary Clinton (26%), John Edwards,  Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry.
  • On the other side of the aisle, new polling suggest that Senator Mary Landrieu is vulnerable in her 2014 reelection campaign. The number being bandied, from Magellan Strategies, is 51% of voters saying it is time to give a new person chance.  Moreover, in a match-up between a generic Republican and a generic Democrat, the Republican won by a 45-39 (with 16 percent undecided). The poll apparently didn’t ask (or decided not to release)  the head-to-head match-up between Representative Bill Cassidy and Senator Mary Landrieu. It also isn’t clear if the generic match-up preceded or followed a series of questions designed to test Republican messages for the campaign. Regardless, there isn’t much new here.  An October 2012 poll by Magellan yielded nearly identical numbers. As the last statewide Democrat standing and running in a midterm election year with a Democrat in the White House, Landrieu is (and will remain) vulnerable. Just remember that being vulnerable doesn’t mean Senator Landrieu will be easy to beat.