Click on the Chicago wards to see voter turnout for the 2014 primary. Check back after Nov. 4 for an updated version. (Graphics/Scott Sutton)

Low Voter Turnout in Primaries Don't Mean No-Shows in November

By Scott Sutton

Posted: Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

With November approaching, Illinois politics is heating up for gubernatorial and senatorial races.

But will voters show up for what is already the costliest gubernatorial race in Illinois history?

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Governor Pat Quinn and Republican candidate Bruce Rauner spent a combined $8 million (with Rauner contributing $7 million to a media push) between March and the end of June. That increase is more than 4 1/2 times what was spent for the same period in the 2010 race.

This comes after an historically low voter turnout in March’s primaries, where ballot counts showed around a 13 percent turnout in Chicago, 19 percent downstate and statewise, and 15 percent for Cook County suburbs. Some wards in the city had turnouts as low as 9 percent.

Those numbers could have been a result of a disinterested democratic voting base turned off because nearly half the ballot went unopposed, and there were no polarizing figures like President Obama headlining the ballot which pushed Illinois’ turnout up to 54 percent in 2012, experts say.

But that could change in November.

“The election laws have changed drastically,” said Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois-Chicago Professor of Political Science and former Chicago alderman. “There is now online voter registration for the first time in Illinois history. There is same day voting, and early voting has been extended a couple of extra days. All of these changes taken together are trying to drive up registration and voting.”


Illinois Voter Turnout IconThe Red Line Project's Kenny Reiter mapped 2014 primary voter turnout in all Illinois counties. | Story

Sources: Cook County Clerk Post Election report, elections.il.gov


However they do it, Democrats will have to get to the polls if they want their party to stand a chance on Nov. 4. A Sun-Times poll, conducted by We Ask America, had Rauner ahead of Quinn 51 percent  to 38 percent. History shows that voter turnout will pick up dramatically on election day. The graph below shows that in midterm elections Illinoisans have averaged a turnout rate of about 37 percent.

There are also some races that will be highly contested, including the race between Congressman Brad Schneider (D-Illinois) and Robert Dold for the Illinois 10th Congressional District, which Schneider won by just over 1 percent in 2012.

While it appears voter turnout should be up come November, there will be differences in the demographics hitting the polls.

“There aren’t quite as many critical races in the youth vote as there have been in past off-year elections,” Simpson said. He added that the youth vote has struggled in general elections.

One thing Simpson said may energize youth vote are up to nine initiatives from Rauner that will appear on the November ballot. These initiatives will be for things like the minimum wage, which has been a powerhouse issue among younger voters.

But both gubernatorial candidates have also seen setbacks that could bring the poll numbers closer together.

Quinn had to deal with the political fallout of a money mismanagement scandal from his failed $54.5 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program, plus the plethora of tax and pension problems facing the state. Rauner was hit by recent revelations that he has money in the tax-haven Cayman Islands, lending to Quinn’s strategy to paint him as an out-of-touch billionaire through negative TV ads.

Research shows that negative ad campaigns -- like the massive one Rauner has launched against Quinn -- can actually mobilize voters, that remains to be seen. But if history remains true, considerably more voters could make it to the polls this November.


In midterm elections, Illinois voters have averaged a turnout rate of about 37 percent. Graphic best viewed in landscape mode on smartphones and in Chrome or Safari browsers. (Graphic/Scott Sutton)

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