A Mason-Dixon poll done for outside groups at the end of September shed some light on why Councilmember Nancy Floreen’s independent campaign for county executive was ultimately unsuccessful.
Specifically, gender played far less of a role than people focused on it thought. She did little to split either the Democratic or Republican bases. Finally, her inability to take public financing didn’t hurt Floreen much. Reliance on developer money was a greater issue.
The Gender Argument Didn’t Work
Voters found gender a largely unpersuasive reason to vote for Floreen. In response to learning that she was the only female candidate, 22% were more likely to support her, 16% were less likely to support her, and 62% didn’t care. In other words, Floreen didn’t win or lose due to her gender.
More tellingly, Elrich had higher rates of support among women (58%) than among men (52%). In contrast, Floreen had more support among men (17%) than among women (12%). There is often a gender gap in favor of Democratic candidates, but Floreen was unable to close it as the sole female candidate.
Splitting the Vote?
In a guest blog post, Seth Grimes argued that Nancy Floreen split the Republican rather than the Democratic vote. The poll suggests that she didn’t really split either party’s vote. According to the survey, Floreen did far better among independents (26%) than either Democrats (12%) or Republicans (7%).
Both Elrich and Ficker had support of roughly three-quarters of their party’s voters. In heavily Democratic Montgomery, that worked to Elrich’s great advantage. Perhaps highlighting her history as a Democrat and photos with Hillary Clinton limited Floreen’s ability to make inroads into Republicans.
Does Campaign Financing Matter?
It has always been hard to get the public interested in the role of money in political campaigns. Elrich’s participation in public financing made 39% of voters more likely to support him but 29% less likely and didn’t matter to 32%. It’s a net positive but not a huge one.
The public, however, is much more interested in who donates to a candidate. Telling voters that Elrich “will take no contributions from the real-estate development industry” made 64% more likely to vote for him and just 17% less likely.
In contrast, telling voters that Floreen “will raise over 1 million dollars for their campaign with over 90% coming from the real-estate development industry” made 76% of voters less likely to support her and only 7% more likely. No wonder Elrich’s campaign worked hard to promote that story in the media.
As the following graph shows, the impact of linking her contributions to messages that Floreen has been too favorable to developers at the expense of taxpayers had an extremely negative impact on support for Floreen, especially among undecided voters.
Note that the messages were tested after initially gauging support for the candidates, so as not to taint these results.
Nancy Floreen has long been one of the most adept members of the county council. She has unquestionably been one of its leaders. For example, she led the fight to revamp the zoning code. This is a major accomplishment.
On the good news front, gender just didn’t matter much in the election. It was a slight positive, if anything, for Floreen and voters appeared more focused on other concerns. This should encourage more women to run in the future. After all, we want candidates to be judged on the merits.
In this political cycle, Floreen’s past advocacy for developers wasn’t advantageous. Her arguments that we need to give them freer rein and not make them pay more in order to have stronger economic growth didn’t gain traction. By running on them, she helped turn County Executive-Elect Marc Elrich’s decisive 64% victory in a mandate for his side of the argument.
Regardless of what you think of her issue positions, Councilmember Nancy Floreen has been exactly the type of smart and hardworking official we need in public office. I’ve always appreciated her willingness to be direct and defend her positions. Running and serving in public office is not easy. She has done it more than ably for four terms on the Montgomery County Council and one term as Mayor of Garrett Park. I wish her well.