A new study by two political scientists suggests that racial bias was likely a key factor in the defeat of Indian American Bobby Jindal in the 2003 Louisiana governor’s race.
Unexpected support from the so-called “David Duke vote” was decisive in Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s victory, detailed statistical analysis by two government professors at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., suggests.
White voters who had backed former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in 1991, and who normally vote Republican, turned away from Jindal in the 2003 race, according to the analysis by Richard Skinner and Philip A. Klinkner. “Duke voters,” particularly in norah Louisiana, were enough to provide the new governor her margin, Skinner and Klinkner suggest.
The unusual Louisiana election provided political scientists with a laboratory for studying an irreducible racial element in Louisiana politics.
In two other recent governor’s races, for example, pitting a conservative white Republican Mike Foster against liberal black Democrats Cleo Fields and William Jefferson, yielded a big win for Foster which could arguably have been attributed to the political conservatism of the Louisiana voter.
But in 2003 Jindal himself ran as a conservative Republican, removing that element from the calculation. Or, as the authors put it: “It seems that the racial divisions in Louisiana are really about race, and not merely a surrogate for the ideological differences that often separate blacks and whites.”
&Mac253;heir paper, “Black, White, Brown and Cajun: The Racial Dynamics of the 2003 Louisiana Gubernatorial Election,” published by Berkeley Electronic Press, founded by UC Berkely professors, uses a technique favored by political scientists called regression Pnalysis. This allowed the authors to track voting patterns based on ideology.
Blanco’s support came “from a different set of voters than other recent Democratic candidates,” the two authors write, including Mary Landrieu in her successful U.S. Senate race in 2002.
In fact, the ex-lieutenant governor’s vote “correlates strongly with the support won by Duke in 1991.”
Several Louisiana political analysts praised the new study, saying its thoroughness furnishes strong evidence that Jindal’s origins and skin color figured decisively against him in the Louisiana vote.
The authors themselves wrote that their figures “provide important evidence that a significant number of northern Louisiana white voters defected from the Republican party because of race.”
Throughout the campaign last fall, Jindal, a second-generation son of Indian immigrants who settled in Baton Rouge, strenuously downplayed the importance of his origins. The youthful former Bush administration official insisted that race was no longer important to Louisiana voters.
Jindal is currently running for congress in Louisiana’s first district. If Jindal wins the Nov. 2 primary election, he would be only the second Indian American to serve in Congress. Dalip Singh Saund was a California congressman from 1957 to 1963.
Some top Republicans in the state, however, were wary of his candidacy for that reason and backed others, who also wound up losing.
The new study appears to confirm the fears of the Republicans who turned away from Jindal. “This analysis provides a solid case that Jindal’s ethnicity was the reason a substantial number of voters who normally vote Republican, voted against Jindal,” said LSU political scientist Wayne Parent. He called it the “last word” on the role Jindal’s ethnic origins played in the 2003 vote.
“They applied sound political science methods to the election results and uncovered some voting patterns that should give us pause,” said Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. “Jindal’s Indian ethnicity played a greater role in the outcome of the election than pundits accorded it.”
Most notably, the authors demonstrate that where Duke did well in 1991, so did Blanco in 2003 — far better, in fact, than Landrieu in 2002.
The openly racist ex-Klansman Duke gained a majority of the vote in 26 Louisiana parishes; Blanco averaged 10 percentage points better than Landrieu in these parishes. And in nine parishes where Duke got over 55 percent of the vote, Blanco averaged 17 percentage points better than the U.S. Senator.
Most conclusive, according to Parent, is the two political scientists’ examination of results from a far smaller unit than the parish — the precinct. And here again, in the north Louisiana precincts examined by the authors, where Duke had gotten more than 60 percent of the vote in 1991, Blanco averaged 13 percentage points better than Landrieu.
“Race still matters,” said Klinkner. “And it’s race, it’s not just Democrats vs. Republicans.”
— Adam Nossiter