To be sure, the mayor has his detractors. No doubt some voters would be inclined to vote the other way if Morial were to throw his support behind one candidate or another.
But Morial is hardly the political albatross some (mostly white) politicos would like him to be. In fact, a survey by Southern Media and Opinion Research of Baton Rouge shows that he's among the most popular outgoing mayors New Orleans has ever seen. Which means, as we enter the runoff season, his enemies would be well advised to tread lightly as they venture down the anti-Morial warpath.
Here's what the survey shows:
· Among voters citywide, Morial has an overall 69.4 percent "positive" rating, with an overall "negative" of 28 percent. That, after almost eight years in office -- and after an ill-advised, divisive effort to change the City Charter to allow him to seek a third term in office. That's not just enviable; it's phenomenal.
· Among black voters, Morial's numbers are even higher -- 85 percent positive, 13 percent negative. (Roughly two percent expressed no opinion).
· Among white voters, opinions are split almost down the middle -- 44 percent positive, 51 percent negative.
Before analyzing the numbers, it's important to understand how "positive" and "negative" are defined. When pollsters seek to discern voters' opinions about politicians, they ask voters to categorize their impressions of those politicians as "very favorable," "somewhat favorable," "somewhat unfavorable" or "very unfavorable." The first two are lumped together as "positive" or "favorable" job ratings, and the last two comprise "unfavorable" or "negative" job ratings. Breaking them down further also reveals intensity of feelings between "very" and "somewhat" in each direction.
For example, among African-American voters, Morial gets "very favorable" marks from 51.8 percent, while less than 9 percent have a "very unfavorable" impression of him.
Morial's black predecessors as mayor did not fare well among white voters on this question. His marks, while still unfavorable overall, are significantly higher than those of his predecessors. He gets 12.3 percent "very favorable" ratings among white voters, with 28.5 percent rating him "very unfavorable."
Pollster Bernie Pinsonat puts those last numbers in perspective by noting that Gov. Mike Foster's ratings among black voters aren't nearly as good as Morial's are among white voters. "Everybody would love to leave office with those kind of numbers among their core constituency," Pinsonat says. "After eight years, people tend to be tired of you. But even after 3T, Morial hasn't worn out his welcome among his African-American base or among white voters."
There was little distinction among voters along gender lines, although Morial's most ardent admirers are black women. His favorable rating among them tops the charts at nearly 87 percent -- with 53 percent rating him "very favorable."
The survey was taken Dec. 4-6 -- two months ago -- but Pinsonat says that doesn't affect its reliability. Morial is not a candidate in the current elections and, if anything, his numbers would tend to improve as we move farther away from 3T, which was in late October (six weeks before the survey). The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5 percent.
"No candidate has replaced him with his tremendous base of support citywide," Pinsonat says of Morial. "None of them dominates like he does among black voters or even white voters."
As we enter the runoff, it will be interesting to see how Morial plays his hand. He stayed out of the primary, and his top supporters scattered among the leading candidates. His political organization, LIFE, took no position in the mayor's race.