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The strong power of partisanship in Illinois

Monday, May 5, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

I commissioned a We Ask America poll on April 21st of the races for governor, comptroller and treasurer. But I forgot to put the candidates’ party labels in the poll’s questions. The results came out very weird.

Bruce Rauner led Gov. Pat Quinn by 11 points in that poll, 49-38. Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka trounced Lt. Governor Sheila Simon by an astounding 27-point, 56-29 margin. And Rep. Tom Cross led Sen. Mike Frerichs in the state treasurer’s race by 13 points, 33-20.

The Topinka crosstabs were bizarre. The Republican was leading among Democrats 55-30, ahead in Chicago 57-23 and among African-Americans 55-22. No way.

Garbage in, garbage out, as they say, so I dumped the poll and ran a new one on April 27th. This time we identified the candidates’ party affiliations.

The results were strikingly different.

In the second, April 27th poll, which specifically told respondents which candidate was a Democrat and which was a Republican, The Republican Rauner and the Democrat Quinn were tied 44-44 - an eleven-point swing. Topinka still led big, but by a much more believable 51-38 - a 14-point swing. And Republican Cross’s lead over the Democrat Frerichs dropped to 41-37 - a nine-point swing.

Both polls had almost identical partisan breakdowns of respondents and both had similar margins of error, ±3.21 percent in the first poll and ±3.14 percent in the second.

The crosstabs show just how dramatically the results changed when voters were given candidate party labels.

The first poll, which didn’t give voters the candidates’ party labels, Rauner led 62-27 among Downstaters. But the second poll, which did include the partisan info, Rauner’s Downstate lead dropped to 52-33. Among whites, Rauner led 57-33 in the first poll, but 51-38 in the second, when they knew which party the candidates belonged to.

The partisanship impact was even more clear with traditionally Democratic-leaning constituencies. Rauner’s recent TV ads have featured his Democratic wife, and the first poll found that Rauner actually led Quinn among women 44-41 when women weren’t told which party he or Quinn represented. But when women did have that partisan information, they flipped big to Quinn in the second poll, 48-38.

When African-Americans weren’t told that Rauner was a Republican, he trailed Quinn 55-22. But when black voters were given both candidates’ party labels, Quinn led Rauner 70-19. That’s still not horrible for Rauner, but far more believable.

Rauner ran some Spanish-language TV ads after the primary was over, and the first poll, which didn’t tell Latino voters that he was a Republican, showed him winning that crucial demographic by 3 points, 37-34. But the second poll, which identified Rauner as a Republican, had Quinn winning Latinos 52-36.

Let’s look at the Topinka numbers, which were what initially made me realize that I’d made a wording mistake. Topinka has been around for decades and voters clearly like her. She’s also a liberal-leaning Republican, which makes her much more electable in Illinois.

But Topinka’s 55-30 lead over Simon among Democrats in the first poll was more than reversed to a 24-67 deficit when Democrats were told that Topinka was a Republican. Her initial 57-23 lead in Chicago and 55-22 margin among African-Americans were also reversed in the second poll, when she trailed Simon 35-54 in the city and 29-58 among African-Americans. And her 55-28 lead among women dropped to 48-40 when voters knew that Simon was a Democrat and Topinka was a Republican.

Tom Cross is better known that Michael Frerichs because of his years as a legislative leader who lives in the Chicago media market and because he had a contested GOP primary race.  Frerichs’ 26-19 lead among Democrats rose to a 68-11 lead when Democrats were given candidate party affiliation labels a week later.

The difference between the two polls is far more interesting to me than the actual results. It’s early. Results will change over time.

But if it wasn’t before, it’s now crystal clear that a large number of likely voters cast their ballots based on partisanship. And as a result the Republican Party faces a gigantic hurdle in Illinois. That’s probably not news to most of us, but at least now it’s somewhat quantifiable.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - VanillaMan - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:22 am:

    Rod Blagojevich got reelected because he was the right brand. He was supported by his party because he was the leader of their brand. Michael J. Madigan was Blagojevich’s co-chair while his daughter didn’t endorse Blagojevich, because of Rod’s brand.

    GM puts out Cobalts, Vegas, Corvairs, Citations and Fieros, yet there a people lining up to buy their products - because they like the brand.

    That is what makes Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and California Democratic states. This is what makes Texas, Georgia, Utah, Idaho, Kansas and others Republican states.

    Sometimes a voting population locks into defining themselves with a brand - even when that brand is producing lemons.

  2. - OneMan - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:25 am:

    And people wonder why Rauner isn’t fully wrapping himself in the Republican flag as it were…

    Step 1: Win the election
    Step 2: irrelevant unless you complete step 1

  3. - The Captain - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:32 am:

    This is what’s behind all the data modeling you’re seeing on voter files the last few cycles. There are voters who don’t have much of a primary voting history and/or are self identified independents that are still behaviorally partisan voters. The data modeling uses large scale polling to drill into the data and attempt to find the common variables among partisan voters to build a metric that identifies likelihood of partisan performance. Because of your error of omission you’ve accidentally stumbled onto the evidence for this phenomenon.

  4. - Publius - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:33 am:

    Fascinating. Thanks.

  5. - BigDoggie - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:39 am:

    “a large number of likely voters cast their ballots based on partisanship” - My personal conclusion about Illinois voters after reading the article was not quite as charitable.

  6. - Walker - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:42 am:

    Very interesting.

    People like to describe themselves as “Conservative” financially, and as “Independent” politically, but they actually vote with party-driven biases.

  7. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:51 am:

    I’ll second Publius. Big fan of you taking the time (and money) to indulge your curiosity on this one by running that poll again Rich, this time with the partisan affiliations.

    There are so many fascinating examples in there. “Quinn? No, I don’t like our Governor. Wait, he’s a Democrat? That changes everything. Yeah, he’s done a lot of good for my family.” Tres bizarre.

  8. - A guy... - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 9:52 am:

    The first poll identified a number of people who have ideological difficulties with their party. The second one defined what the difficulty might be in getting them to scratch against their instincts. It’s all data now.

  9. - wordslinger - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 10:05 am:

    Geez, I can’t believe what a train wreck the GOP brand is in Illinois.

    After months and millions of largely unanswered pounding by Rauner, Quinn is tied with him? Unbelievable.

    VMan, you better get that big Tea Party GOTV apparatus started up. Apparently, you’re going to need it.

    Maybe Rauner should label himself as the Tea Party candidate, just so they’re sure, lol.

  10. - Southwest Cook - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 10:18 am:

    I like Jesse Ventura’s idea - prohibit party labels on ballots. Everyone should run on their own name. Parties could still endorse candidates. Maybe voters would start to learn about the candidates and the issues affecting their lives.

  11. - wordslinger - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 10:22 am:

    –I like Jesse Ventura’s idea - prohibit party labels on ballots.–

    Why is less information better?

  12. - Walker - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 11:00 am:

    Any unaided recall questions?

    Do we know just where they are on pure name awareness?

    My guess is that Rauner started way behind on simple name awareness, and is still climbing that hill.

  13. - Precinct Captain - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 11:37 am:

    Party labels act as a heuristic for our political outlook/values and who represents them. Political science research has shown this for a long time, it’s nothing new. However, I don’t know if this effect is greater in Illinois than in other places.

  14. - Oswego Willy - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 11:38 am:

    The reality for Rauner’s Crew is that while tied with Quinn at 44%, there are two realities that might deflate the Rauner Cake;

    No GOTV - while courting Democrats in Ads, the Rauner Crew needs to mend fences and build infrastructure. Brady was up at least 4 points up to Election Day. Quinn and the Democrats made that up. Rauner’s idea of courting Dems and Cook County voters holds water only if you physically vote them. At 44% and no mechanism to get out GOP voters, how will the Rauner Crew ID all these Dems and Indies, and then vote THEM…and…the GOP pluses too?

    Ads don’t vote, voters do, and controlled voters are the best voters.

    Running as an “indie” - Rauner’s move to go beyond Center, and actively, overtly, and methodically go after Dems is his other “problem”. At some point, you either ARE a Republican or not, the specific and exacting way Rauner is approaching this tact. If they decide building a cake that most ingredients are Right Center to Left Center, it risks the idea of losing the GOP Regulars, who may feel more and mor the commercials show a Rauner who can’t get enough of Democrats, why am I going to vote for Rauner? This 44-44 is a warning to Rauner’s Crew; months and months of attacks, and Bruce is only “even”? Will enough Dems and Indies peel off or go to Rauner to offset the GOP Regular who now feels left out? The Ground Game to get these Center Right to Center Left voters to become pluses to actually vote needs to offset the losses of GOP Regulars your tact may be alienating, and who vote, or not vote “Rauner” this time.

    Being tied with party affiliation considered is not great news. Add no way to vote pluses, that hill is steep. It’s their cake. Making it bake is up to them.

  15. - Anon - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 12:04 pm:

    I don’t understand why the Dems have not repealed the ban on straight-party voting, which a lameduck GOP General Assembly passed on the last day of their control in 1997? There is a principled argument, after all, that voters deserve the choice of a one-party punch.

  16. - steve schnorf - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 12:35 pm:

    We know where we stand with African-Americans, and unless our candidate is truly terrible we appear to be able to move our number around by 3-5%, depending on the candidate himself/herself, and our efforts in Cook. We should understand why we’re where we are, and if we don’t shame on us.

    The truly terrifying number in this poll for us should be women. Look what it does to the Topinka/Simon numbers. God, that is scary! And I don’t think as a party we have a clue on this. Why do women have an apparent visceral reaction against the label “Republican”? I do think Durkin, Radogno, and Dorgan understand it and are trying to combat it but the troops they lead are too frequently too set in their ways and beliefs.

  17. - Rich Miller - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 12:48 pm:

    === Why do women have an apparent visceral reaction against the label “Republican”?===

    There are several factors, but the biggest one can be summed up in 3 words:


  18. - steve schnorf - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 1:00 pm:

    Oh, Rich, I think you have to add other words: rape, incest, abortion, child care, wage parity, glass ceiling…I think the list could go on quite a way.s

  19. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 1:21 pm:

    There are several factors, but the biggest one can be summed up in 3 words: GWB

    He may be a good whipping boy for the mess in Iraq, etc., but when I think about “threats to women’s issues”, there are a a lot more poster boys and girls on the GOP bench that come to mind to stir the blood.

    My guess is that Rauner started way behind on simple name awareness, and is still climbing that hill.

    Are you kidding? I think there are 3 Rauner commercials every hour on WGN-TV for the last 3 months.

  20. - Bill White - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 2:05 pm:

    === Why do women have an apparent visceral reaction against the label “Republican”?===

  21. - Snucka - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 2:11 pm:

    Interesting to see independents moving towards Quinn (+3) when party affiliation is mentioned.

  22. - Logic not emotion - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 3:51 pm:

    It shows the impact of low information voters on elections. Those polls were swung by people who are blindly following party without knowing the candidates. If they knew the candidates, they’d know which party they were.

  23. - wordslinger - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 4:13 pm:

    –It shows the impact of low information voters on elections.–

    So low-information voters are more likely to vote for the GOP candidate?

    When you give them more information, they tend to vote against the GOP candidate.

    What’s that tell you?

  24. - Logic not emotion - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 4:18 pm:

    Word: I don’t think that is the obvious conclusion; but that would be a liberal’s way to spin it.

    I think the more astute conclusion is that more low information voters favor the democrats as the only change was party affiliation being noted. Obviously, more swung to the Democrat when they knew that so obviously they were low information voters.

  25. - wordslinger - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 4:30 pm:

    –I think the more astute conclusion is that more low information voters favor the democrats as the only change was party affiliation being noted. Obviously, more swung to the Democrat when they knew that so obviously they were low information voters.–

    LOL, and that makes you “logical,” huh? Those sentences you wrote make sense to you?

    So, in your mind, if people change their minds after receiving more information, they are, according to you, “low-information.”

    Aren’t they, by definition, “more-information” voters?

    You crack me up, dude. Got no game.

  26. - Oswego Willy - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 5:39 pm:

    ===When you give them more information, they tend to vote against the GOP candidate.

    What’s that tell you?===

    Tells me that the Name of My Party has repelled people from candidates that the voter may like on their own merits.

    That is a “huge spot on a blank canvas” obvious, not a subtle hint of anything.

  27. - Just The Way It Is One - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 7:09 pm:

    Well done article. And this staunch Partisanship is not only real in Illinois, it obviously remains a big problem for most GOPers (especially the suspiciously now-better-known Rauner, who people are starting to question in bigger numbers) seeking Statewide Office–except for the “One ‘n Only” JBT! God, the People just LOVE her–and yet, just couldn’t find in them to elect her Governor when she ran!?

    Illinois Politics…ah, this is why it’s so much fun–it just ALways keeps ya guessing–especially when ya think you’ve started pretty much to figure at least SOME of it all out…!

  28. - Just The Way It Is One - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 7:11 pm:

    That was meant to read above, “…couldn’t find it in them…!?”

  29. - The Prince - Monday, May 5, 14 @ 11:18 pm:

    Anon @12:04 pm–I don’t understand why the Democrats had not repealed straight-ticket voting either. For example, if there had been straight-ticket voting in 1998, Judy would have lost, Peter Fitzgerald would have lost and George Ryan would have been up for two weeks counting votes against Poshard. Mark Kirk likely would have lost in ‘10 as well.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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