What Happens When They Find Out Alex is a Woman?
Capitol observers know well that Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink would be the first female governor if she wins her race for the office next year. Less certain, however, is how many of the voters that could send her to the Governor's Mansion know that she's a woman.
An early Sachs FlaPoll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling released this week showed the biggest Republican name in the race so far - Attorney General Bill McCollum - holding a slight lead over Sink, the only Democrat so far in the race. But Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said his university's most recent polling of Sink and McCollum's job approval ratings showed something that will likely be untrue by the time a general election between to two takes place: their support among men and women was equal.
A Quinnipiac poll conducted in April, before either candidate officially entered the race to replace Gov. Charlie Crist, showed 49 percent of men and 47 percent of women approved of McCollum's handling of the AG job. Similarly, 34 percent of men thought Sink had done a good job so far in her first term as CFO and 32 percent of women thought so too.
Quinnipiac has not yet conducted a head-to-head Sink/McCollum poll, though each appears to be their party's top choice for 2010. However, an analysis of voting patterns in the 2008 presidential election by University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus found that 53 percent of the electorate last year were women.
That's why Brown said that as the race develops - if it is indeed Sink vs McCollum - the numbers will likely look much different in a few months than they do now. The candidates will become more well-known to voters, who will soon learn that Alex is a nickname for Adelaide, not an abbreviation of Alexander.
"One of the big questions of the governor's race is do voters know that Alex Sink is a woman and when they do know, how does that change things?" Brown said.
Brown said female candidates tend to perform well with female voters because they are typically perceived to be more honest and pragmatic, though he cautioned that identity politics would not be the sole determinant in the potential race between Sink and McCollum. But it could make a difference between two pretty evenly matched candidates in a reliably toss-up state, he said.
MacManus agreed, telling the News Service that Florida women supported President Barack Obama over Arizona Sen. John McCain 52-47 percent according to exit polling of last year's presidential race. But she added that those women likely did not all go for the Democrat for the same reason.
"Florida's women’s vote is not cohesive," she said.
She added that McCollum could be uniquely positioned to draw female support next time around, even in a race against the woman who would be the first female governor.
"Some women might find Bill McCollum's strong stance against sexual predators appealing," MacManus said. "He might be able to bring in some of the social conservative (women)."
However, MacManus also said that while Alex Sink's atypically female name may be liability in polls 18 months from election day, it could come in handy later.
"That can work to a candidate's advantage or not, that's what so confounding about it," she said. "Men may think she's a guy and say 'yay' or women may think she's not one of them and be disappointed."
But with a clear majority of the electorate in the latter category than the former, Sink's campaign would be wise to spread the word that she is a woman, MacManus said.
"Once more women find out that she's a woman, that will probably help her cause a little bit," MacManus said. "It certainly can't hurt."
That's especially true among younger voters, MacManus said, who turned out in droves to help make Barack Obama the first black president with the help of Florida's 27 electoral votes. MacManus said the appeal of breaking another glass ceiling could attract those same idealistic voters - male and female - to Sink's campaign.
"It will be a path breaking candidacy like Barack Obama's," MacManus said. "It will probably get a lot of attention from younger voters and the majority of college students these days are females."
And those voters will not register in many polls taken any time soon about the 2010 governor's race, MacManus said.
"(Young voters) are not going to pay attention this summer," she said. "Right now what you're seeing is the opinion of people who really follow politics."