NEW ORLEANS - The two best-known candidates for Louisiana’s U.S. Senate seat lead their party challengers by big margins, according to an exclusive Eyewitness News poll released Thursday.
In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, incumbent David Vitter leads Charlie Melancon, his presumptive Democratic challenger, by 12 percentage points.
The telephone survey of 600 registered voters was commissioned by WWL-TV and a consortium of Louisiana TV stations. It was conducted Aug. 15 and 16 by Dr. Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group.
In the Republican primary, Vitter scores 74 percent of the vote. Former Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor gets 5 percent and physician Nick Accardo earns 3 percent. "Undecided" gets the second highest number in the contest: 18 percent.
Pollster Dr. Ron Faucheux said the survey shows Republicans like Vitter.
“They want to see him re-elected,” Faucheux said. “And it also says most of them don't know his opponents in the primary.”
Faucheux said Vitter's challengers won't be able to win unless they can figure out a way to get a lot of attention and name recognition fast.
“It looks like Sen. Vitter will easily win the Republican primary,” Faucheux said.
In the Democratic primary, the poll shows Rep. Charlie Melancon has a big advantage, with 43 percent of those questioned in the WWL-TV telephone survey saying they would vote for him. Neeson Chauvin gets 3 percent; Cary Deaton, 2 percent.
But in this primary, the undecided is huge, at 52 percent.
“I think it's a lack of information and lack of sense of a Democratic primary campaign,” said Faucheux.
In addition, he said the other candidates don't have name recognition and have failed to gain any kind of traction with voters.
“None of the other candidates seem to be much of a threat at least at this point to Charlie Melancon's nomination,” Faucheux said.
In a head-to-head matchup, the poll shows Vitter outscores Melancon by 12 points.
“Sen. Vitter has the clear advantage in this election, but I think it also points out that Charlie Melancon has some opportunities,” Faucheux said.
State Rep. Ernest Wooton, who is running as an independent, earned 1 percent of the vote in the survey, along with Libertarian candidate Anthony Gentile and “other” candidates. The undecided vote in the head-to-head matchup was 14 percent.
Faucheux said you can see one reason for Vitter's advantage in the question about name recognition and favorability. Vitter has 91 percent name recognition. Only 9 percent of those questioned said they are unfamiliar with him.
Charlie Melancon has 68 percent name recognition, but a sizable 32 percent of voters don't know him.
Faucheux said Melancon's lower name recognition also means an opportunity for growth, especially among African-American voters.
“And there are many more African-American voters who are undecided. 20 percent of African-American voters are undecided, as opposed to 12 percent of white voters,” Faucheux explained. “So Charlie Melancon does have some opportunity for some growth there.”
Faucheux’s survey sample was 76 percent white voters or voters of other races, and 24 percent African-American.
Vitter leads among both men and women. Still, Faucheux said Melancon has growth opportunity among white women.
“The key thing to look at here is that 18 percent of white women are undecided in the Senate race. And only seven percent of white men are undecided in the race,” Faucheux said.
The survey sample was 53 percent female and 47 percent male.
Geographically, Melancon only leads in the New Orleans metro area. Vitter leads in Cajun country, the northern part of the state, and the Baton Rouge area.
According to the Eyewitness News poll, Vitter carries most of the state at this stage; in some cases, Faucheux says, "by significant margins."
Faucheux explained that the sample of 600 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 4 points. An additional 100 sample of registered Republicans was used to augment the U.S. Senate Republican primary sample.
The margin of error for the Republican primary sample is +/- 5.9 points. For the Democratic primary sample, it is +/- 4.9 percent.
The first party primary in the Senate election and other Louisiana congressional elections is Aug. 28, with a second party primary Oct. 2, if needed, and the general election Nov. 2.