What happened to Bobby Jindal?

In recent months, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has cut an increasingly visible national profile, implementing bold policy reforms while chiding "stupid" elements of the GOP. In the early 2016 jostling, he's rising. Back home, he's, well, not.


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is suffering from very low poll numbers. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jindal's approval rating appears to be in steady decline. On Monday he dropped his tax reform plan that would have replaced income taxes with higher sales taxes, acknowledging a widespread backlash from the public, religious groups, business and state lawmakers in his own party. "It certainly wasn't the reaction I was hoping for," Jindal said.

That very public failure comes just 16 months ago after Jindal was easily reelected with two-thirds of the vote against minimal Democratic opposition. What happened? The answer is that the policies that have made Jindal an increasingly attractive national candidate have hurt him back home.

Deep budget cuts, particularly to health care and education spending, have been unpopular. Polling suggests that a small majority also opposes the vouchers at the heart of his educational reform plan, which a judge has deemed unconstitutional. While other Republicans gave in, Jindal has held firm in his opposition to a federally-funded Medicaid expansion -- an unpopular position, according to a Southern Media Opinion & Research poll.

Jindal's consultants say a recent Southern Media Opinion & Research poll, which shows the governor's approval rating at 38 percent, is inaccurate. But they acknowledge that there has been a slide in recent months from previous heights.

"It happens to every governor at different points -- you go through easier patches and harder patches," said Jindal political consulant Curt Anderson. "Bobby is not a get along to go along type. He fights hard for what he thinks is best for the state, sometimes independent of whether it's popular at the time ... When you rock the boat, some people are happy, some aren't."

Jindal's popularity dip  is the price of getting things done, Anderson argued. At six percent, unemployment in Louisiana is lower than the national average and low for the region. In 2011 the state GDP ticked up .5 percent. Per capita income has also grown, although it's still below the national average.

"He's used up his political capital but he has engaged in some pretty major reforms," said Louisiana political analyst John Maginnis. "He has nothing more that he needs good poll numbers in Louisiana for, he's not running for governor again."

The current slump is hardly the end of the story. Jindal is still pushing for an income tax repeal without the sales tax swap -- and his staff is no longer insisting that the package be revenue-neutral. To pass that legislation he needs only a simple majority rather than the two-thirds required to raise sales taxes and it will likely be much more popular (at least in the short term) even if fiscal hawks in the state cry foul. (Republicans control both the state House and state Senate.)

As a presidential contender, Jindal has been touted not just as a reformer but as one who can stay hugely popular while making dramatic cuts. Of late, that's not been the case, however.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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Chris Cillizza · April 9, 2013