January 26, 2024 9:00am

Are voters wanting to abandon Louisiana's jungle primary?

Most Power Poll Lafayette voters say not to Jeff Landry's closed primary idea

Photo of Adam Daigle
Lafayette, LA Correspondent
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Say what you want about Louisiana’s jungle primary election system. It may have been the invention of four-time Gov. Edwin Edwards, but much like other uniquely Louisiana traditions, people are holding on to it tightly.

Exhibit A: Gov. Jeff Landry’s attempt to toss most of it in favor closed primaries.

The new governor slid that into a special session agenda just after getting sworn in, pitching the idea of a closed primary system for all elections above the municipal and parish level. The state, he said, should join in others that have similar systems that call for a system in which the parties pick their candidates.

State Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, was one of the lawmakers who filed a bill on his behalf. What came out on the other end was a watered-down version of the original: only U.S. Senate and Congressional races, along with some state offices, will have closed primaries starting in 2026 instead of this year.

Is there an appetite for the closed primary system? Polls done earlier this month leaned to no.

Which brings us to Exhibit B: Power Poll Lafayette voters’ take on it.

This week voters mostly gave the concept a thumbs-down, with over half either opposed to the final outcome or relieved lawmakers didn’t approve what Landry had initially pitched. Only 12% of voters were disappointed in what got approved.

Was the matter rushed in the Legislature? It's hard to argue against it. U.S. John Kennedy eventually got involved, and lawmakers relented to allow independents to vote in a closed primary. Also, the concept was first pitched as the primary winner would advance to the general election without a runoff, meaning a candidate could move on by getting, say, 35% of the vote in the primary.

And Emerson struggled at times with the bill. According to the Illuminator, she initially claimed Louisiana has too many elections and her bill would help address the issue. But once she was pressed on the claim by another Republican lawmaker, she admitted it wouldn’t and that she was “just trying to change the process of how people get elected.”

It's a change that may have current elected officials in the crosshairs, namely U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, said voter Jim Parker, news director at KADN/KLAF. Cassidy, it's worth noting, spoke out against the measure.

“Rumors are flying in political circles that Landry's intent is to target Cassidy for defeat and a partisan primary makes that much easier to accomplish,” Parker wrote. “Cassidy sidestepped the question when it was posed to him by News 15 after he came out in opposition. The senator said he expects to win re-election regardless.”

The issue never came up for public discussion during the last fall's campaign but got tossed into the special session that was mainly called for lawmakers to create a second minority Congressional district so a federal judge wouldn’t have to do it for them.

When asked for their immediate reaction to Landry’s initial pitch for closed primaries, 44% were either strongly opposed or somewhat opposed with 27% indicating they were not sure or did not know enough about the topic.

Only 25% of voters backed the measure.

Asked how they thought a statewide referendum on whether or not to abandon the jungle primary, 60% said voters would favor keeping it. When asked which statement best describes how they feel about the jungle primary system, the breakdown went like this:

53% said it is fair, gives a level playing field for all candidates and lets voters decide.

17% said it’s not fair and voters should pick their party candidates.

17% said it’s more cost effective since a closed primary could have more elections.

13% said it’s out of step with the systems several other states use.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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