A lot of Republican faithful are swooning over Gov. Bobby Jindal these days. It's all part of the governor's grand plan — that is, his exit strategy from Louisiana. That plan may or may not gel between now and November, but it's interesting to note that Jindal's rise in national GOP prominence coincides with his lowest approval ratings ever among Louisiana voters.
Veteran pollster Verne Kennedy has surveyed Louisiana voters for a group of local businessmen, including former gubernatorial and mayoral candidate John Georges. Kennedy's poll numbers on Jindal are telling. They show a steady erosion of his "favorable" ratings and an equally steady rise in his "unfavorable" ratings.
For example, in December 2006, while Jindal was serving in Congress but clearly planning to run for governor the following year, 78 percent of the voters surveyed said they had a "favorable" impression of him. Only 8 percent had an "unfavorable" impression. That was the high-water mark for Jindal.
In May 2007, as Jindal's campaign was about to launch, his numbers were equally stratospheric: 76 percent favorable; 8 percent unfavorable. Those two surveys were only five months apart, and the numbers are within pollsters' standard plus-or-minus 3.5 percent margin of error.
Jindal took office in January 2008. Like all new governors, he enjoyed a honeymoon period during which voter approval remained high.
But, like most governors, Jindal has seen his approval ratings slip with the passage of time. This is inevitable for just about any high-ranking politician. You can't hold elective office without having to make tough decisions, and once you start making decisions, you please some folks and disappoint others. Over time, the disappointments add up.
In January 2011, nine months before his easy re-election, Jindal's "favorables" had fallen to 56 percent — and his "unfavorables" had risen to 25 percent. Much of that shift was probably inevitable, given Jindal's very high early numbers, and in fairness to him the 2011 numbers are still very high for an incumbent on the eve of a re-election campaign. Any time an incumbent is comfortably above 50 percent in the polls — and his favorables are at least twice his unfavorables, as was the case for Jindal — he has reason to feel good about his standing with voters.
That said, it's also fair to note that despite his easy re-election campaign, Jindal no longer was the rock star he appeared to be in 2007. Witness the low turnout in the 2011 campaign. Despite Jindal's large margin of victory, only 23 percent of Louisiana's electorate actually voted to re-elect him. Not exactly a mandate.
In fact, shortly before his re-election, an August 2011 Kennedy poll showed Jindal's favorables had fallen to 49 percent — and his unfavorables had risen to 31 percent. By then, however, it was clear that Democrats' fortunes had fallen even more precipitously. Jindal (along with every other statewide GOP candidate) had the good fortune of not attracting a major challenger.
Still, those numbers represent a low-water mark for Jindal.
Last month, Kennedy's most recent survey showed the slide in Jindal's favorable rating has stopped — his favorables were 50 percent — but his unfavorables continued to rise to 35 percent. That's a favorable-to-unfavorable ratio of merely 1.4:1, which is hardly anything to crow about.
Much of Jindal's decline in popularity may be attributable to the fact that Louisiana faces tough economic times, and Jindal has had to make some tough decisions.
Nevertheless, Jindal has to own those numbers. Sooner or later, all of his decisions are going to catch up with him. Maybe that's why he's so anxious to get the hell out of Louisiana.