St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Does Steelman inspire gender backlash?

The (apparently) last pre-primary survey of the Missouri governor’s race by Survey USA (released August 1) discloses an interesting non-event: In the high-visibility contest between Congressman Kenny Hulshof and State Treasurer Sarah Steelman in the Republican Primary, there is little or no difference in how the candidates perform with male and female voters.

While the typical partisan gender gap (i.e., women favoring Democrats more than men) appears in test runs pitting each potential Republican against likely Democratic nominee Jay Nixon, the
“identity politics” gender gap that appeared so prominently in this year’s Democratic presidential primaries does not appear at all in the survey of women planning to vote in the Republican primary.

In hypothetical November contests against Nixon, women support the Democrat by 50-39 over Hulshof and by 51-38 over Steelman. The reason Hulshof trails Nixon by only 6 points (48-42), compared to Steelman’s 9-point gap (50-41), is primarily because of men, with whom Hulshof and Nixon are tied 46-46, but who favor Nixon by 5 points (49-44) over Steelman.

But in Tuesday’s head-to-head matchup in the Republican Primary, Hulshof leads by 12 points (45-33) among men and by 11 (42-31) among women, a statistically insignificant difference. The biggest contrast is that twice as many Republican women (20%) remain undecided the Friday before the election.

Frankly, I would have expected Republican women to gravitate towards Steelman, similar to the way Democratic women favored Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. Not only have Republican women faced the same “glass ceiling” issues as their Democrat colleagues, they also would be expected to long for a more ideologically and politically compatible symbolic candidacy to support. They support the possibility of electing a woman to a top executive office, just not that woman (Hillary). The socially and economically conservative Steelman would seem to fit the bill. But the poll numbers don’t support that theory.

And if Steelman were the GOP nominee in the general election, I would expect some gender-identity conscious Democrats and independents (excluding single-issue abortion rights advocates), still smarting after Hillary’s loss frustrated their expectations, might have taken out that frustration by crossing over to back Steelman over Nixon. The poll numbers don’t show that happening either.

But there may be something else afoot here. Younger voters might not have noticed, but among older men like the Oracle, Sarah Steelman is hot (at least for a 50-year-old). She plays down her appearance, making a point of calling herself a mom, but her long blond locks are hard to hide. Some time ago (before any ads began airing in the St. Louis media market) I informally asked three male Republican friends of mine (all over 50) who they were supporting for governor, and all backed Steelman. Perhaps their Republican wives noticed they supported Steelman over the unanimous choice of the party’s most trusted leaders and concluded that their decision was motivated more by Steelman’s looks than her masters degree in economics. That may have brought to mind personal workplace experiences in which they perceived that physically attractive women received promotions or other favorable treatment at the expense of seemingly qualified but less attractive colleagues.

The Oracle suspects that Democratic women don’t necessarily have the monopoly on identity politics that the poll numbers might suggest, and that many Republican women do identify with Steelman and support her because of that, but that their support is offset by opposition from other Republican women who subconsciously resent her appearance. These competing factors would net out to near zero.


Anonymous A Reader said...

Um. Is this. . .uh. . .is this some kind of joke?

August 4, 2008 at 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Cryptic said...

Good to see you back, Oracle.

August 6, 2008 at 9:39 PM  

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