Ruth Renik acknowledges that her support for Gov. Tom Corbett wavered when he proposed steep cuts in state higher education funding and money for public schools.
“I was surprised he cut the schooling,” said Renik, 74, of Swatara in Lebanon County. “That hits everybody’s pocketbook. … I wavered.”
It hit the Republican governor’s approval ratings, too, especially among women. But a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday found his popularity on the rebound, fueled largely by a shift in how female voters view him.
The poll of 1,358 voters showed they approve of the job Corbett is doing by a 44-36 percent margin, a jump from his 39-38 percent overall rating in June. His support among women increased to 37 percent from 30 percent in June. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
Renik, a retiree, said her faith in Corbett returned after the final budget he signed on June 30 restored much of the education money. “I still support him,” she said.
“I think some of it was a perceptual thing … that things were not as bad as they could have been,” said Bev Cigler, a political science professor at Penn State University’s Harrisburg campus.
Female voters, many of them mothers, tend to focus on family and consumer issues, Cigler said.
“He said what he was going to do, and he did it,” said Jerry Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh, when asked what may have appealed to female voters.
Many voters expected a “draconian” budget in March when Corbett proposed 50 percent cuts in higher education as one way to close a $4.2 billion deficit, Cigler said. The final version Corbett and legislators approved softened those and other cuts.
The plan cut money to state-related universities such as Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh by 19 percent. The State System of Higher Education, which oversees state-owned universities, lost 18 percent in state funding. Universities in turn hiked tuition but not by as much as they would have if the state cut its support in half.
The budget provides $5.4 billion for basic education, a $128 million increase from Corbett’s original proposal.
Even his critics later conceded that Corbett delivered on his promise to close the deficit without raising taxes and by cutting state spending.
Corbett yesterday said he and his wife, Susan, didn’t intend to firm up support among women when they sponsored a naming contest for two Airedale terrier puppies. They received the 11-week-old pups last week and let children suggest names, settling on “Penny” and “Harry” — short for Pennsylvania and Harrisburg.
“Will this help?” Corbett said. “This is just part of who we are. If people like dogs and that helps, then so be it.”
Cigler and Shuster said a narrowing of the gender gap cannot be attributed to anything Corbett has said.
“I don’t think women have been hearing from him,” Cigler said.
In classes, Shuster refers to Corbett as “GIH — governor in hiding,” because he hasn’t been heard from as much as other governors. But, Shuster said, “How can you argue with him? What he’s doing is working.”
Mark Schwartz, a Bryn Mawr lawyer and political analyst, said the upsurge among women voters “may be a function of the fact he got a budget done on time and (former Democratic Gov. Ed) Rendell couldn’t.
“Maybe they think, incrementally, government works better,” said Schwartz, a one-time aide to the late House Speaker K. Leroy Irvis of Pittsburgh. “They may like the fact (Corbett) is more efficient.”
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