Gender gap in governor’s race driving messages

Stars of Burke, Walker political TV ads discuss supporting candidates
Gender gap in governor’s race driving messages

A distinct divide has developed in the race for governor this year, and it isn’t just between Republicans and Democrats.

In an east side Madison warehouse, Clare and Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld’s attention is largely on the business of bottling at their company, Quince & Apple.

“We do artisan preserves and drink syrups, and everything we make here in house, label it, manufacture it, ship it,” Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld said.

But the couple has been paying close attention to the race for governor too, in support of Mary Burke.

“She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she has the best will of the state at heart,” said Clare Stoner Fehsenfeld.

Miles away at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, Teri Jendusa-Nicolai shared a personal story of domestic violence with the crowd of young and old.

“That’s probably what makes me most angry,” Jendusa-Nicolai told the crowd. “It’s so selfish what he did.”

But her thoughts lately haven’t been far from the election either.

“I have a lot of respect for our governor,” Jendusa-Nicolai said. “I think a lot of people think that there’s a war on women and I don’t believe that at all.”

The Stoner Fehsenfelds and Jendusa-Nicolai would like to be known for their day jobs. But you may recognize their stories from political ads that have been running during this election season.

“I fought to stay alive for my other two children,” Jendusa-Nicolai said in her ad, after sharing a story of being beaten and nearly killed by her husband. “Today I am fighting for Scott Walker.”

“We were just trying to figure out how to make our business grow,” Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld said in the ad, sitting with Clare and showing pictures of their business. “That’s where Mary Burke came in.”

Each of the ads uses a personal story to connect with a specific subset of voters. And the messages are intentional.

Consider the most recent Marquette Law School poll numbers: Among women, Democratic challenger Mary Burke leads Scott Walker 54 to 40 percent. But among men, Walker leads Burke 62 to 34 percent, with a 28-point gap.

“Burke is solidly winning among women but Walker is doing exceptionally well among men,” poll director Charles Franklin said.

Franklin said that’s in part because of partisanship. Men tend to identify more with Republicans and women with Democrats. But it’s not that simple. News items, current proposals and yes, ads can all have an effect.

“I certainly think that you could see the latest Walker ad on abortion as one that’s trying to cut into any advantage that Burke has among women,” Franklin said.

Walker began running an ad last week featuring him directing comments directly to the camera and speaking about a piece of legislation related to abortions.

“The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor,” Walker said.

“Certainly the emphasis on jobs and employment issues, those are issues that affect men and women strongly,” Franklin said.

Burke has recently been running an ad where she speaks to voters as well.

“As governor I’m going to take the best ideas wherever I can find them,” Burke said.

So do these ads really affect the people they’re intended to? News 3 asked UW political science professor Kathy Cramer, who studies voter decision-making.

“Most people don’t consciously calculate, ‘I want to vote for a man or I want to vote for a woman,'” Cramer said. “But I think it does operate at somewhat of a subconscious level at, ‘Which of these candidates is going to understand the concerns of people like me?'”

And as it turns out, that’s exactly the message that the stars of the political TV ads are trying to get across.

“I think if women thought before that there’s this war on women and (Walker) doesn’t care about them and his policies are bad for them, I think this will open their eyes to what he has been doing and let them know he’s in our corner,” Teri Jendusa-Nicolai said.

“When you have a close relationship with someone and know them really well, I don’t think about Mary as the female governor candidate,” Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld said. “I think about Mary as someone I know and trust and really believe in running for governor.”

For some perspective on how unusual these gender gap numbers are, Franklin said in the 2012 race between Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin, the gender gap numbers went as high as 16 to 19 points, but never above 20. He said it’s likely those numbers change again.

A new Marquette poll is expected on Wednesday.