Professor says Cuccinelli struggles to overcome gender gap

With Election Day a week away, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has not connected with Virginia’s women voters, according to Deirdre Condit, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and chair of the political science program in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“This race is all about the gender gap,” Condit said. “Ken Cuccinelli is so far out in front on anti-reproductive rights issues that he will not be able to overcome this with many women voters.”

A new poll released by the Washington Post on Monday night found Cuccinelli trailing McAuliffe by 24 points among women voters, with McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli 58 percent to 34 percent. The same poll found Cuccinelli leading by a statistically insignificant 1 percent over McAuliffe among men, 45 percent to 44 percent. Altogether, the poll found McAulliffe leading Cuccinelli 51 percent to 39 percent among the 762 likely voters who were polled.

Condit said the staying power of the gender gap in this election has been impressive.

“Even in the last presidential election, where at one point the nation saw the widest gender gap in American presidential polling history, there was significant narrowing by Election Day,”  Condit said. “I think this election is different, however. I don’t expect the gap between women and men’s votes to narrow much at all. This issue is far too salient – too powerful, on both sides, for it to dissolve in the voting booth.”

Despite aggressive ad campaigns by both candidates over the past few weeks, the polls seem to have stabilized – which Condit said cannot be encouraging for the Cuccinelli campaign.

Turning out their respective bases has become the focus in the home stretch to Election Day. The Cuccinelli campaign’s appeal to nationally identified figures, such as Rand Paul, and McAuliffe’s embrace by both Hillary and Bill Clinton at various campaign events, signal that this last week is devoted solely to bringing “home” their respective base electorates.

At this point in the campaign, Condit said independent candidate Robert Sarvis, who is polling at around 11 percent, poses a more serious threat to Cuccinelli than to McAuliffe because his target “independent” supporters may be less motivated to turn out to support their “alternative” candidate than are base support voters for either major party candidate.

Condit said McAulliffe began the campaign as an unknown in Virginia and his early ads failed to help voters connect with him. But the campaign found its footing and later ads defined Cuccinelli by his record on women’s issues.

“In this race, McAuliffe’s lower name recognition actually helps him,” Condit said. “McAuliffe is able to motivate and scare voters by reminding them of Cuccinelli’s record on reproductive rights. Because McAuliffe doesn’t have a legislative record, Cuccinelli has focused on McAuliffe’s business dealings to create doubt about his trustworthiness.”

Condit said despite trailing in the polls, Cuccinelli may have an easier time than McAulliffe in getting his base to the polls on Election Day.

“Ken Cuccinelli has a solid core of voters that support him,” Condit said. “Terry McAuliffe has less of a solid identity with core voters within the Democratic Party and getting those voters to the polls may be more complicated for him.”

Condit researches and teaches about women and politics, feminist political theory, women’s studies and public law and the courts.


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Deirdre Condit
Deirdre Condit