2012 IL Election Analysis

Published on Author Scott Kennedy2 Comments

Here are some thoughts on the data that stood out after looking at the various data points from the 2012 election in Illinois, in no particular order:

  • Illinois was not a contested state so it would certainly have been different in some ways if the two candidates had contested the election here. It’s impossible to tell in what way it would have changed though.
  • Of the 9 contested swing states two of them bordered Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa, none of the Wisconsin media markets bleed into Illinois though. However the Quad Cities media market covers both Illinois and Iowa and Obama performed very strongly in the Illinois counties in this media market relative to the rest of the state. He took 55.43% in the Quad Cities media market. Just glancing at the county totals map it becomes apparent that there must be some local geographic democratic performance explanation for the counties closest to the Quad Cities as there is a cluster of counties with strong Obama performance that is unmatched anywhere else in the state. Obama got over 60% in Rock Island county, over 55% in Whiteside, Knox and Henderson, had over 50% in Henry, Mercer and Warren and even won Carroll and JoDaviess with narrow pluaralities. The only two counties Romney won in the media market were Stark county by a very significant margin and Bureau county by less than two tenths of a point. Perhaps Obama was carried on the coattails of the contested congressional race in this area but since Bustos lost many of these counties that Obama won the more likely explanation is that Obama performed well in the areas that were heavily exposed to both campaigns’ TV ads.
  • As for the rest of downstate Obama’s county wins were mostly limited to counties with large college towns like Dekalb (Northern Illinois University), Champaign (U of I), Peoria (Bradley), and Jackson (SIU). He also won St. Clair and Alexander, two counties that were won by both Quinn and Giannoulias in 2010 a year in which the Democrats did historically poor in 2010, plus Winnebago and Fulton with majorities.
  • The 2012 election in Illinois would be largely unremarkable compared to 2008 but for the fact that in between those two elections was the Republican landslide year of 2010, a year in which much of the state behaved in ways not seen since 1994. Since 1990 the worst performing Democratic candidate downstate was Dawn Clark Netsch’s 28% in her gubernatorial run in 1994 (the last Republican landslide year) but that was not at all a competitive election, she lost by 30 points statewide (64-34). A typical democratic performance in the downstate 96 counties for a Democrat in a competitive election is somewhere in the mid 40s, this was true for Obama 2012 (45%), Giannoulias 2006 (45%), Kerry 2004 (45%), Blagojevich 2002 (46%), Madigan 2002 (46%) and Gore 2000 (46%). Even native downstaters in competitive elections Poshard in 1998 (49%) and Durbin in 1996 (50%) performed only slightly better. The low point in a competitive election prior to 2010 for an actual competitive election was for Carol Mosely-Braun in 1998 (37%), a race she only lost by 3 points statewide. Despite all of Braun’s troubles in her 1998 campaign she still outperformed Quinn’s narrow 2010 victory and Giannoulias’ narrow 2010 loss downstate, they both only took 34% downstate. So after the historic drubbing the Democrats received in 2010 and the much discussed problems Obama had with white voters, rural voters and especially rural whites it was quite noticeable to see the President’s democratic performance in the downstate 96 counties return to typical levels.
  • It was a strong year for Democrats locally and nationally so much of the analysis is disproportionately tilted toward the Democrats but it wasn’t all good, at least not for Obama. The Illinois Senate Dems won a historic supermajority of 40 seats (30 is a majority, 36 is a supermajority) including several key targeted downstate races where Obama performed much more poorly than the local State Senate candidate. (you can see maps of these districts here) In central Illinois Andy Manar won the hotly contested 48th State Senate district by more than 10 points but Obama didn’t win any of the counties in this district. In western Illinois John Sullivan won re-election in the 47th State Senate district by 12 points and the only counties that Obama won in this district were in the vote-light portion in the northern part of the district. In deep southern Illinois perennial target Gary Forby won the southernmost 59th State Senate District by 18 points despite the fact that Obama only won Alexander and Jackson (partial) counties. In the Metro East Bill Haine won his targeted re-election race in the 56th State Senate district by 18 points despite the fact that the President had a narrow loss in Madison county. In fact every countywide election in Madison County was won by the Democratic candidate despite the fact that the President had a narrow loss in the county.
  • In the Gubernatorial blowout year of 1994 when Republican Jim Edgar beat Democrat Dawn Clark Netsch by 30 points Netsch only won one county, Gallatin County, in deep southern Illinois. In 2012 Romney won Gallatin county by 18 points.
  • Obama once again won the 5 traditional collar counties collectively, winning all but McHenry county outright. Democrats in competitive elections have performed better in the collar counties in Presidential election years than off years. In Presidential election years Obama 2012 (51%), Obama 2008 (56%), Kerry 2004 (45%), Gore 2000 (44%) and Durbin 1996 (45%) were much stronger than off-year elections like Quinn 2010 (39%), Giannoulias 2010 (38%), Blagojevich 2006 (42%), Giannoulias 2006 (46%), Blagojevich 2002 (39%), Madigan 2002 (36%), Poshard 1998 (32%), Mosely-Braun 1998 (36%), and Hartigan 1990 (36%).
  • Not only are Democrats showing strength in the collar counties, once the GOP stronghold, but the vote share coming from the collar counties is increasing as well. As recently as 1998 the vote share among the regions was the easy to remember 20/20/20/40, meaning 20% of the statewide vote came from the City of Chicago, 20% from the Cook County suburbs, 20% from the 5 traditional collar counties and 40% from the downstate 96 counties. However that balance of power has shifted towards an increasing vote share coming from the collar counties at the expense of downstate. Now it’s almost 25% of the statewide vote coming from the 5 collar counties while both the city of Chicago and the Cook County suburbs are responsible for about 19% each and the remaining 37% coming from the downstate 96 counties. So not only are the collar counties trending more Democratic but they are also responsible for an increasing amount of the overall vote statewide.
  • The Democrats had been making inroads into both Will and Lake counties for some time but that momentum came to an abrupt halt in 2010. For example in 2006 Democrats Blagojevich (GOV) and Giannoulias (TREAS) won narrow pluralities in both Lake and Will counties in their competitive elections. However in 2010 Lake County was a strong performer for area native Mark Kirk and Will County had a particularly well organized Tea Party faction. Yet in 2012 Obama carried both Lake (53%) and Will (52%), clear victories in both cases.
  • Despite all the attention given to voter enthusiasm (or lack thereof) among various political parties, subgroups of voters or the electorate as a whole the actual turnout was pretty much consistent with past turnout. In Illinois a typical presidential year election gets turnout around 70% and in an off-year election the turnout is in the ballpark of 50%. In the past three presidential election years the statewide turnout was 2012 (70.2%), 2008 (71.6%) and 2004 (71.3%) and in the last three off years it was 2010 (50.5%), 2006 (48.7%) and 2002 (51.9%). For all the hype surrounding this enthusiastic electorate in 2008 it turns out the 2008 turnout was only .3% higher than 2004 in Illinois and the falloff to 2012 was 1.4%, a drop but not much. Almost all of that drop-off came from the Cook County suburbs and the collar counties, Chicago turnout was actually up a bit while downstate turnout remained flat.
  • The 2012 election featured a notable discussion on wealth and how tax policy affects the various economic classes in the country. Additionally the preceding four years included a number of policy initiatives from the Obama White House geared toward reform of financial investing and the Republican nominee was well known for his successful private equity firm and abundant wealth. It was therefore interesting to look at the Obama performance in the wealthy north shore, specifically New Trier township in Cook County notable for its wealthy communities but also its historically competitive Democratic performance. Obama’s 2012 performance in New Trier was 54%, down from a notable high of 63% in 2008 but still rather favorable when viewed against historical Democratic performance in past competitive elections such as Quinn 2010 (47%), Blagojevich 2006 (42%), Giannoulias 2006 (47%), Kerry 2004 (56%), Blagojevich 2002 (47%), Madigan 2002 (48%), Gore 2000 (52%), Poshard 1998 (30%), Mosely Braun 1998 (49%), Durbin 1996 (60%) and Hartigan 1990 (32%). Obama lost 9 points in this highly affluent area between 2008 and 2012 but even with that performance degradation his 2012 performance in New Trier township still put him among the top tier of past statewide candidates in competitive elections in the township.
  • In the City of Chicago the affluent communities are downtown in wards like 42 and 43. County and township boundaries don’t change but ward boundaries are redrawn after each census and the most recent boundary change just happened so comparing this year’s ward totals to historical performance isn’t exactly apples to apples but it’s notable that both wards 42 & 43 saw about a 9 point drop in Obama’s performance from 2008 to 2012, mirroring that of New Trier township. However even with that performance drop Obama was still over 60% in both wards. In fact there was only one ward in the city that held Obama under 60% and that was the far northwest side 41st ward which has long been the Republican party’s most favorable ward, but even there he won 53-45. In the City of Chicago overall Obama dropped about 1.5% from 2008 to 2012 but he still took 84% in the City and turnout in Chicago was up whereas it was down everywhere else. When a Democrat takes 84% in the City and turnout is up in the City relative to other parts of the state it’s usually a very strong sign that the Democrat is going to perform well.
  • I’ll have more on the 6 contested congressional races once I finish tabulating the scorecards for those districts but for now you can view the district boundaries here and here are the official results for IL-08: (Duckworth (D) 55% – Walsh (R) 45%), IL-10: (Schneider (D) 51% – DOld (R) 49%), IL-11: (Foster (D) 59% – Biggert (R) 41%), IL-12: (Enyart (D) 52% – Plummer (R) 43%), IL-13: (Davis (R) 46.6% – Gill (D) 46.2%) and IL-17: (Bustos (D) 53% – Schilling (R) 47%).

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