According to an independent poll conducted last week and obtained exclusively by The Bayou Brief, Kay Michiels, an attorney and former chief of staff for the City of Alexandria, is dominating the three-person field competing to replace outgoing Mayor Jacques Roy, with a double-digit lead.
The poll was neither commissioned by nor provided to any of the campaigns. It was conducted on Oct. 15-17 by Myers Research and Strategic Services, a small but well-regarded firm in Washington, D.C. It sampled 400 likely voters and has a margin of error of +/- 5%.
The poll offers Alexandria residents the first public snapshot into a campaign season that kicked off unusually late and, for the first time in the city’s history, does not include a white male candidate. It may also upend the conventional thinking about voter behavior on the basis of race and the long-held assumption in Alexandria that a single African American candidate in the primary would consolidate the support from an overwhelming majority of the city’s black voters.
In fact, in an extensive 2014 study on minority candidates in Louisiana by Dr. Paru Shah, titled “It Takes a Black Candidate,” the historical data reveals that a black candidate is twice as likely to win when there are multiple black candidates competing in a primary election.
Kay Michiels now appears solidly positioned as the frontrunner, commanding support from 42% of voters. She also currently leads among likely voters in all but one of the city’s five council districts and among every demographic in the city.
Michiels only trails in Council District 5, a majority white district held by Chuck Fowler; currently, according to the poll, Catherine Davidson is ahead in District 5, though, importantly, the district also includes the highest number of undecided voters, 35%.
In total, however, only 13% of voters remain undecided, split evenly between African Americans and whites. Slightly more than half (54%) of undecided voters are men.
41% of poll respondents were reached on cellphones, and 59% were reached on a landline. 48% of respondents were white, and 50% of respondents were African Americans, a number that matches historical turnout averages. 57% were Democrats, 26% were Republicans, and 17% were independents, which also is in line with citywide voter registration numbers.
Perhaps most surprisingly, state Rep. Jeff Hall, initially considered to have had the best opportunity of finishing first on the Nov. 6th primary, now appears trending toward a distant third place, the poll reveals.
Today, Hall is polling at 18%, and if the trend continues, there may be very little time for him to rebound, without an expansive and unprecedented ground game operation. Only a month prior, two internal polls, not released to the public, claimed Hall had between 41% and 42.5% respectively, according to multiple sources familiar with the results.
According to Myers, all three candidates enjoy positive perceptions, though Hall narrowly broke 50%. Candidates by positive and negative perceptions:
An earlier poll, conducted by Myers in July, showed Hall with a paltry 34% job approval.
State Rep. Hall’s backwards slide appears to have primarily benefitted attorney Catherine Davidson, who may now be in firm control of second place. Davidson, who has run a surprisingly competitive grassroots campaign despite initially low name recognition and significantly fewer resources, is now polling in second place with 27%, more than tripling the support she had counted in a previous poll.
Perhaps ironically, Davidson now leads Hall, who many believe to be allies of one another, by siphoning off votes in majority African African precincts., as the data reveals.
All three candidates are Democrats.
Myers Research has previously worked for President Barack Obama and more than 300 other clients across the country, including former Rapides Parish Sheriff Chuck Wagner, current Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell, and nearly two dozen Louisiana state representatives and state senators.
What could possibly explain Hall’s disastrous three weeks? The poll provides some potential explanations.
As previously mentioned, an earlier poll by Myers showed Hall with only a 34% approval in his current job as state representative. This is perhaps not surprising to those who have followed his career.
Hall’s record in the legislature has been largely unremarkable. During his three and a half years in office, he has been one of the least productive of state house’s 105 members, shepherding through only three local bills: One that created a downtown development district in Pineville, one that provided additional funding to improve a sewerage system in Pineville, and another that closed a loophole in the Rapides Parish Sheriff Department’s pension fund. His proposal to reconstitute the defunct Alexandria Central City Economic Development District failed in committee for three consecutive years, following the strong objections of the Rapides Parish Police Jury, the City of Alexandria, and the Cenla Chamber of Commerce.
During the state’s six special sessions, in which legislators tackled the most critical budget crisis in modern state history, the only piece of legislation Hall introduced was a resolution commending a local art teacher on his retirement.
There are other significant factors that may be attributable to Hall’s poor showing. According to Myers Research, City Councilman Joe Fuller is perceived negatively by a majority of voters, by a ten point margin. Fuller is actually less liked in Alexandria than the utility company Cleco.
In recent weeks, Fuller has taken on a much more public role as a surrogate for the Hall campaign, regularly issuing factually incorrect, controversial, and racially divisive video commentary on his Facebook account promoting Hall’s campaign. The target of Fuller’s ire is often outgoing Mayor Roy.
The same poll also found Roy with the highest approval rating of any current officeholder. All told, 61% of voters approve of the job he has done, including 65% approval among African Americans.
There is compelling evidence to suggest that Fuller’s prominent role as a surrogate for Hall’s campaign has backfired. In addition to his relentless criticism of the outgoing mayor, Fuller has frequently made unsupported and conspiratorial allegations about the operations of the city’s utility department.
Only 10% of voters trust Fuller to be truthful about utility rates, according to Myers Research. 60% believe the current city administration. Hall, a former Cleco executive, has adopted some of Fuller’s talking points about utility rates. Only 16% of voters trust him to be truthful about utilities. Incidentally, 54% of voters have a negative perception of Cleco, and 58% believe the City of Alexandria should maintain control of its own utility company.
There is another, arguably more obvious negative impact that Fuller has inflicted on the Hall campaign, his sustained attacks on one of his colleagues on the City Council, Roosevelt Johnson. Johnson, who is seeking reelection, is one of the most respected leaders in the community. He represents District 2, a majority-minority area in the heart of the city. Fuller may not be on the ballot, but he is campaigning heavily both for Hall and against Johnson.
Hall should be able to attract a bulk of his support in Johnson’s council district. Instead, Kay Michiels is polling at 51%; Davidson is at 27%, and Hall is polling at an anemic 8%, according to the data. The decision to publicly oppose Councilman Johnson, who is known to be one of the most hardworking campaigners in the state (he famously knocked on every single door in the entire city during his 2006 bid for Alexandria mayor), appears to have been an enormous strategic error.
Indeed, while Michiels leads in four of city’s five districts and Davidson leads in one, Jeff Hall is only polling in second place in District 3, currently represented by Jules Green.
It is critical to recognize this is only one poll and offers a snapshot in time of the race. During the final two weeks of any campaign, there is always a possibility that the dynamics can change dramatically, and an effective ground operation can negate current voter perceptions.
One thing should be clear from this data: 2018 is indeed the year of the woman.