Early Takes on Trump: Illinois By Melinda Mueller
Since 1992, Illinois has consistently voted Democrat in presidential elections, making it a reliably “blue” state. However, with stark political differences between metropolitan Chicago and rural downstate communities, the reality of Illinois voting behavior is complicated, as is Illinois’ perspectives on President Trump.
Trump won the Illinois Republican primary with 38.8 percent of the vote, compared to Cruz’s 30.3 percent and Kasich’s 19.7 percent. Clinton won the Illinois general election with 55.8 percent of the vote, compared to Trump’s 38.8 percent. Clinton won 12 counties in Illinois, mostly in and around Chicago, and counties with large cities. Trump won the remaining 90 counties, mostly with smaller rural populations. While Trump won fewer votes compared to Romney in 2012 (38.8 percent to 40.7 percent), he gained in geographic range, winning 11 more counties than Romney, mostly in northwestern Illinois.
The presidential race likely had a minimal impact on down ballot races, with Democrat Duckworth winning the Senate seat over Republican incumbent Kirk. Incumbency ruled for U.S. House seats, except in the 10th district, where Democrat Schneider beat Republican Dold and in the 8th district (Duckworth’s former seat), where Democrat Krishnamoorthi beat Republican DiCianni.
While Democrats retained control of the Illinois General Assembly, Republicans gained four seats in the House, and two in the Senate, with the Democrats losing its 71-member veto-proof majority in the House. Two races (House district 71 and Senate district 47) were in counties where Trump fared better than Romney, suggesting a possible impact on down-ballot races.
Approval among Illinois residents for President Trump is low, at 39 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. Polling also indicates a gender gap, with 45 percent of men approving of the president compared to 35 percent of women. Reflecting the public mood, newspaper coverage is also mostly negative. Even the right-leaning Chicago Tribune’s editorials critique President Trump, most recently with the headline, “Trump's Firing of Comey Looks Like a Politically Motivated Hatchet.”
Low approval ratings in Illinois stem from a mix of variables, including President Trump’s policy positions and rhetoric, but also state-level partisan politics. For instance, a March 2017 poll indicated that half of Illinois respondents favored retaining the Affordable Care Act, with 35 percent supporting repeal. Of those supporting repeal, 68 percent supported repealing only when an alternative is in place. Additionally, President Trump was also quick to attack Chicago on his Twitter account, suggesting in late January that he might send in the feds to address the crime problem in Chicago, setting off a firestorm of public and political responses.
Beyond Trump’s policies, however, Illinois is also approaching two years without a state budget, resulting in massive cuts to social services, higher education, and public schools. Polling indicates strong disapproval of both Governor Rauner and House Speaker Madigan. Confidence in state government sits at 25 percent, the lowest in the country. The crisis may explain both increased support for an outsider candidate like Trump, and voter frustration with his policies and rhetoric.
Most Republican leaders are cautious about associating with President Trump. Rauner did not attend the Inauguration or the White House governor’s dinner, and avoided taking a stand on the executive order limiting immigration from several Muslim-majority nations.
Barring a major event, President Trump’s approval ratings in Illinois are unlikely to change significantly. As Democratic candidates emerge for the 2018 governor’s race, along with midterm elections, we have an excellent opportunity to study the complex relationship between state and federal campaigns, voter anger, and an unpopular president.
Melinda Mueller is Professor of Political Science at Eastern Illinois University.