Political parties

The major political organizations are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, each affiliated with the national party. However, differences in culture and economic interests have made Louisiana's politics extremely complex. Immediately following statehood, the primary political alignment was according to ethnic background, Anglo or Latin. By the 1830s, however, Louisiana politics reflected the national division of Jacksonian Democrats and National Republicans, who were by mid-decade replaced by the Whigs. By and large, the Whigs were favored by the Anglo-Americans while the Democrats were favored by those of French and Spanish descent. When the Whig Party fell apart over slavery, many former Whigs supported the Native American (Know-Nothing) Party.

Louisiana was one of the three southern states whose disputed electoral votes put Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House in 1877, in return for his agreement to withdraw federal troops from the South, thus putting an end to Reconstruction. The ensuing period of Bourbon Democratic dominance in Louisiana, a time of reaction and racism in politics (though a few blacks continued to hold office), lasted until the early 1890s, when worsening economic conditions inspired Populists and Republicans to challenge Democratic rule. The attempt failed largely because Democratic landowners were able to control the ballots of their black sharecroppers and "vote" them Democrats. The recognition that it was the black vote, however well-controlled, that held the balance in Louisiana politics impelled the Democrats to seek its elimination as an electoral factor. The constitution of 1898 imposed a poll tax, a property requirement, a literacy test, and other measures that succeeded in reducing the number of registered black voters from 130,000 at the beginning of 1897 to 5,320 in March 1900 and 1,342 by 1904. White registration also declined, from 164,000 in 1897 to 92,000 in 1904, because the new constitutional requirements tended to disfranchise poor whites as well as blacks.

Between 1900 and 1920, the New Orleans Ring, or Choctaw Club, was the dominant power in state politics. Growing political discontent led 5,261 Louisianians (6.6% of those voting) to cast their ballots for the Socialist presidential candidate in 1912. A few Socialists won local office that year in Winn Parish, a center of Populist activity in the 1890s and the birthplace of Huey Long in 1893.

During his relatively brief career as a member of the Railroad Commission, governor, and US senator, Long committed government resources to public service to an extent without precedent in the state. He also succeeded in substituting for the traditional Democratic Party organization a state machine geared primarily toward loyalty to himself and, after his assassination in 1935, to the Long family name, which kept its hold on the voters despite a series of scandals that publicized the corruption of his associates. When blacks began voting in increasing numbers during the 1940s, they tended to favor Democratic candidates from the Long camp. The Longs repaid their loyalty: when race became a bitterly divisive issue in the late 1940s and 1950s—Louisiana gave its presidential vote to the States' Rights "Dixiecrat" candidate in 1948—the Longs supported the national Democratic ticket.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence of the Republican Party and the election in 1979 of David C. Treen, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Treen was succeeded by Democrat Edwin Edwards in 1983, Democrat Charles Roemer in 1987, and Edwin Edwards again in 1991. In 1995, Louisiana elected another Republican governor—Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, who was reelected in 1999. Foster was unable to run for reelection in November 2003, due to term limits. In 2002 there were 2,810,069 registered voters. In 1998, 62% of registered voters were Democratic, 21% Republican, and 16% unaffiliated or members of other parties.

In 2003, both US senators from Louisiana—John Breux (reelected in 1998) and Mary L. Landrieu (elected 1996 to replaced retiring Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr. and reelected in 2002)—were Democrats. Landrieu is the daughter of former New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu. Following the 2002 elections Louisiana's delegation of US representatives consisted of three Democrats and four Republicans. In mid-2003, 26 of the state senators were Democrats and 13 were Republicans; 70 of the state representatives were Democrats and 35 were Republicans.

In 2000, Louisianians gave Republican George W. Bush 53% of the vote in the presidential election, while Democrat Al Gore received 45%. The state had nine electoral votes in the 2000 presidential election.