Cracking the Code (2002)


The Barbara Lee Family Foundation commissioned the Democratic public opinion research firm Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates, in consultation with the Republican firm American Viewpoint, Inc., and the Democratic strategic communications firm Staton & Hughes to conduct this multi-part research project on women running for governor.

The 2002 research was initiated to expand upon the research done following the 1998 and 2000 elections by further examining voters’ attitudes toward female candidates for governor. Ten focus groups were conducted before the 2002 gubernatorial elections in five states where female gubernatorial candidates were running. These states were Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, Arizona and Hawaii. Nine more focus groups were conducted with the same participants immediately following the 2002 elections, and in one case, a new group was convened.

Each focus group consisted of 12-15 swing voters of the same gender. The discussions were tailored to explore six issues and topics: 1) the context of the campaigns and races in their states; 2) the governors’ races specifically and their perceptions of each of the candidates; 3) the traits voters look for in a gubernatorial candidate; 4) the issues voters most want their governor to deal with; 5) how and where people acquire their perceptions of the candidates; and 6) how swing voters make their electoral decisions, particularly in the critical last weeks of the campaign. This panel focus group model is unique in its ability to track an individual voter’s impressions at various stages of the campaign.

Because we wanted to understand the factors that helped swing voters select a candidate, what convinced them to choose a woman candidate or persuaded them not to, our focus group samples do not represent the diversity of the voters as a whole in each state. Throughout this guide, when we refer to “voters” we are referring to the swing voters in our main focus groups.

In addition to the focus group research, Staton & Hughes conducted 47 in-depth interviews with candidates, campaign managers, finance directors, press secretaries, consultants and reporters in the nine states where women ran for governor in 2002. The purpose of these interviews was to identify and examine common themes among female gubernatorial candidates and their campaigns.