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  • Error in Poll Shows Importance of Party Affiliation in Illinois PDF Print E-mail
    Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
    Written by Rich Miller   
    Sunday, 04 May 2014 10:52

    I commissioned a We Ask America poll on April 21 of the races for Illinois 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 Governor Pat Quinn 49-38 in that poll. Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka trounced Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon by an astounding 56-29 margin. And Representative Tom Cross led Senator Mike Frerichs in the state treasurer’s race 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 27. This time we identified the candidates’ party affiliations.

    The results were strikingly different.

    In the April 27 poll, Republican Rauner and 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 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.

    In the first poll, 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.

    The partisanship impact was even more clear with traditionally Democrat-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 in the second poll, they flipped big to Quinn, 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 it’s 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 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, in which 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 than 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.

    Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.

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