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Miller: Surprise! Illinois voters vote party lines

Published: Monday, May 5, 2014 11:53 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, May 5, 2014 11:56 p.m. CDT

I commissioned a We Ask America poll April 21 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. Gov. Sheila Simon by an astounding 27-point margin, 56-29. 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 led among African-Americans, 55-22. No way.

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

The results were strikingly different.

In the second April 27 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 11-point swing. Topinka still led big, but by a much more believable 51-38 – a 14-point swing. And Republican Cross’ 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, plus-minus 3.21 percent in the first poll and plus-minus 3.14 percent in the second.

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

In the first poll, which didn’t give voters the candidates’ party labels, Rauner led 62-27 among downstaters. But in 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 effect 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 three points, 37-34. But the second poll, which identified Rauner as a Republican, had Quinn winning among 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.

Cross is better known that Frerichs because of his years as a legislative leader who lives in the Chicago media market and 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.

• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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