(T)his 2020 Primary Election has shown some alarming trends Illinois Republicans should be worried about when it comes to voter turnout.
Statewide this year, only 34% of primary voters chose to pull a Republican ballot. In raw numbers, over 1 million more voters pulled a Democratic ballot than a Republican ballot this year. Compare that to the last similar election, which was 2004 with George W. Bush on the ballot, when Republicans pulled 42% of Primary Election ballots statewide.
The story is the same everywhere you look – Republicans are losing ground.
In suburban Cook and the collar counties, a minuscule 21% of Primary Election ballots were Republican. These numbers are less than half of what they were the last time we had a Republican president on the ballot for re-election: 43%.
In 2004, Lake County Republican voters made up 51% of the ballots cast in the Primary Election. Fast forward to 2020 and Republican ballots counted for only an alarming 22% of the vote. Only 22,488 Republican votes were cast, compared to 81,746 Democratic votes.
In central Illinois, Champaign County went from Republicans making up 54% of the primary vote in this key county in 2004 to under 25% of ballots this primary election.
Even the traditionally-Republican stronghold of DuPage County saw a massive dip. The west suburban county used to be so important that in November of 2000, then Governor George W. Bush made a huge appearance at the College of DuPage with over 25,000 supporters in an effort to actually win Illinois. In 2004, during the Primary Election, Republicans pulled 58% of the Primary Election ballots, nearly 87,000 voters. This year, Republicans in DuPage County only made up 26% of the ballots cast, down nearly 50,000 voters.
We chose 2004 as our comparison because it was the last similar election when a Republican president was up for re-election with nominal-to-no opposition. Things look even worse if you compare this year’s results to more recent primaries. In the 2016 primary, 1,460,341 Republican ballots were cast compared to 531,706 this year. Even the 2018 gubernatorial primary saw significantly more Republican activity (739,834 votes cast), despite the fact that turnout is normally lower in non-presidential elections.
So what do these abysmal Republican turnout numbers mean? Well, to us, it’s pretty clear: if we don’t get our collective act together, 2020 might be an even worse year for Republicans than 2018 was.
We’ve been mentioning these numbers to center-right leaders since last Tuesday, and we’ve frankly been a bit shocked at the collective yawn we’ve received in response. We’ve heard every excuse under the sun, from the coronavirus to more interesting races on the Democratic ballot to Election Day being St. Patrick’s Day (seriously). While the virus certainly had an effect on older voters, many of whom trend right, the city of Chicago had massive problems administering this election, which undoubtedly suppressed votes in this deep blue city. Voters crossing over to vote in the opposition’s primary is not a new phenomena in 2020, this happens every election (for instance in IL-3 when Republicans crossed over in 2018 to save Dan Lipinski). And bars were closed on Election Day, so this excuse doesn’t hold water (or green beer).
It’s time to get our heads out of the sand. Republicans are not just losing ground; we’re getting clobbered. No more excuses, no more pointing fingers, and no more sitting around hoping that dark money contributions will save us. Things are not going to get better on their own. Voter turnout projections for November show us losing even more ground, especially when you consider the massive funding advantage Democrats enjoy.
Time to roll up our sleeves. The General Election is less than 8 months away.