Dem’s Downstate losses offset in Collar Counties
by RUSS STEWART
The dismal plight of the Republicans in Illinois can easily be remedied by the loss of a bit of real estate, like every square mile situated east of the Fox River Valley and north of Interstate 80.
Get rid of Cook County and the surrounding counties of DuPage, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry and DeKalb, and Illinois would be resoundingly Republican. Of course, that’s fantasy, but the political reality is that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 91 of the state’s 102 counties and won the 95 counties categorized as "Downstate" by 1,103,012-730,437, a margin of 372,575 votes.
"Blame it on George Bush" was the Democrats’ refrain in 2008, citing his economic and foreign policy failures. As is shown in the attached chart, the Republican collapse in the surrounding counties began during his 2000-08 presidency, when the Republican brand soured. Bush and Dick Cheney won those counties by 99,964 votes in 2000. In 2016, Trump and Mike Pence lost them by 141,515 votes, a turnaround of 241,482 votes. Bush won all the outlying counties in 2000, but he lost Cook County by 746,005 votes. Trump won none of hose counties in 2016, and he lost Cook County by 1,008,369 votes, a Democratic gain of 342,364 votes in 16 years.
"Blame it on Barack Obama" is the Democrats’ refrain in 2016, attributing their Downstate debacle to the secular, politically correct, "identity"-driven cultural politics of the Obama Administration. Bush won Downstate in 2000 by a modest 76,433 votes, carrying 72 of the 95 counties. Trump won by 372,575 votes, carrying 91 of those 95 counties, a Republican gain of 296,142 votes in 16 years.
Trump lost Illinois 2,977,498-2,118,179, a blowout margin of 859,319 votes; he got just 39.4 percent of the vote, which is the second worst two-party proportionate showing for a Republican presidential candidate since the days of the New Deal. In the 1964 Lyndon Johnson-Barry Goldwater race, Goldwater got drubbed in Illinois 2,796,833-1,905,946, getting 40.5 percent of the vote and losing by 890,887 votes. I guess that is an accomplishment: Trump got 212,233 more votes than Goldwater 52 years later, but Park Ridge-raised Clinton can’t crow: she got just 180,655 more votes than LBJ.
Through 14 elections from 1964 to 2016, turnout in Illinois increased from 4,702,779 to 5,165,677, an increase of 462,898, or about 9,000 new voters per year. That’s not growth, that’s stagnation. The white 1960s Democratic voters, mostly from machine-controlled Chicago, have been replaced by liberal black, Hispanic and Millennial voters, almost all from the Chicago area, and the 1960s Republican suburban base has been replaced by the once-habitually Democratic Downstaters.
In the three-way contests of 1968, 1992 and 1996, the Republican nominee got 47.2 percent, 34.3 percent and 36.8 percent, of the vote respectively. In the 17 presidential elections since 1948, a Republican has won Illinois seven times, in 1952, 1956, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988. In the 1988 George Bush-Michael Dukakis contest, the last Republican ticket win, the vote was 2,310,939-2,215,940. It’s been stagnant or downhill since then, while Illinois’ Democratic vote has been pushing toward 3 million, somewhat erratically but on an upward trajectory.
The vote went from 2,453,350 in 1992 (Bill Clinton-Al Gore), to 2,341,744 in 1996 (Clinton-Gore), to 2,589,026 in 2000 (Gore-Joe Lieberman), to 2,891,550 (John Kerry-John Edwards) in 2004, to 3,419,348 (Obama-Joe Biden) in 2008, to 3,019,512 (Obama-Biden) in 2012, to 2,977,498 (Clinton-Tim Kaine) in 2016. Remembering that 1992 and 1996 had a third-party candidate, Ross Perot, who got 840,515 and 346,408 votes, respectively, the average Democratic vote in the past seven presidential elections was 2.81 million. Clinton got 42,014 fewer votes than Obama got in 2012, but she still exceeded the party average by 100,000 votes.
Conversely, after the 1972 Nixon high-water mark of 2,788,179 votes and Ronald Reagan’s 1984 2,707,103-vote landslide, Illinois’ Republican vote has widely fluctuated. After Bush’s 2,310,939 votes in 1988, it fell to 1,734,096 in 1992, a collapse of 576,843 votes. The vote was 1,587,021 in 1996, but it rebounded smartly to 2,019,421 in 2000 and to 2,345,945 in 2004, but the Obama effect had no effect, as John McCain-Sarah Palin got 2,031,179 votes (38.8 percent of the total), the worst recent drubbing but still 11,758 more votes than Bush got in 2000. The difference: Obama got 830,322 more votes than Gore. The Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan vote in 2012 was 2,135,218, a bit over 41 percent of the total and roughly 100,000 more than McCain, while the Obama vote was down by 400,000.
Despite the Democrats’ Downstate debacle, Trump got only 100,000 more votes statewide than Bush got in 2000 and than McCain received in 2008, and 17,039 fewer votes than Romney got in 2012, but their allocation was much different. The Republican brand, which is perceived as anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and anti-social welfare program, no longer sells in the suburban sprawl surrounding major urban centers. Growing black and Hispanic populations, which in Illinois number more than 30 percent, plus the gay vote, explain why there are 300,000 more Democratic voters in Cook County than there were 2000 and 150,000 more in the outlying counties.
A post-election analysis by Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato indicated that the Democratic vote increased by 3.7 percent from 2012 in the 40 major urban areas, which include the close-in suburbs surrounding the city. The Republican vote was down by 7.5 percent in Houston, by 5.5 percent in Phoenix, by 6.7 percent in Dallas, by 6 percent in Austin, by 7.1 percent in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, by 7 percent in Atlanta, by 6.3 percent in San Diego and by 4.4 percent in Los Angeles. The 2012 election was a banner year for the Democrats in large urban areas, and 2016 was even more so. In wholly urban areas, such as Manhattan, filled with upscale whites and downscale blacks in Harlem, the Republican vote was down to 9.9 percent. Not even the super rich vote Republican any more. The Republican vote was down to 34.9 percent in Dallas, to 28.2 percent in Boston and to 35.4 percent in Orlando.
Here’s a look at the trends in the outlying counties:
Lake County. A Republican bastion as recently as 1984, when Reagan won 118,401-53,947, the county has become more Democratic with every passing election. The county includes tony Lake Forest, Highland Park and Lake Bluff, along the Lakefront east of Route 41. Those voters flocked to Clinton in droves. Those in heavily Jewish Deerfield, Riverwoods and Buffalo Grove had no use for Trump. Hispanic voters in North Chicago and Zion and black voters in Waukegan went overwhelmingly for Clinton. Western areas of the county, including Lake Zurich, Mundelein, Libertyville, Wauconda and Fox Lake, used to be bedrock Republican, but they now have an exploding Hispanic population, while working class towns such as Round Lake Beach and Grayslake are now over 75 percent Hispanic.
Obama won the county in 2012 by an impressive 151,552-128,609, a margin of 22,943 votes. Clinton won this year by 168,186-108,608, a margin of 59,578 votes. A Democrat occupies every eastern state legislative seat, Deerfield Democrat Brad Schneider beat Bob Dold 112,310-102,648 in the county for congressman, and a Democrat was elected county clerk for the first time since the 1800s. For Republicans, Lake County is gone.
DuPage County. Back in Pate Philip’s heyday, when he was a state senator and the county Republican chairman, DuPage had a machine which rivaled that in Chicago. Virtually every office, all the way down to school board and park board, was held by a Republican. Few Democrats bothered to run.
That’s been changing since 2002, when Philip lost his Senate majority and retired. The Hispanic population exploded in the northeast corner, in Addison, Wood Dale and Bensenville. Naperville has become a trendy shopping-and-eating enclave, filled with liberals, as are the towns to the east, Lisle, Downers Grove and Hinsdale. That gives the Democrats two anchors. Reagan won 227,141-71,430, a 155,711-vote margin, which was enough to put a dent in the Democrats’ Cook County margin. By 2000 the Republican bulge was down to 48,487 votes . . . with no dent.
Obama won in 2012 by 196,776-192,659, a margin of 4,117 votes, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win DuPage County since the 1800s. Clinton won 222,499-164,365, a 58,134-vote blowout. The Republican base shrank by almost 28,000 votes, and the party is well on its way to becoming a minority.
Will County. Joliet, with a huge black and Hispanic population, delivers 3-1 Democratic majorities, Hispanics are now dominant in Bolingbrook and Romeoville, and increasingly upscale Frankfort, New Lenox and Mokena are younger and less Republican than they used to be. Clinton won by 16,504 votes, not much better than Obama’s 9,156, so the Republicans are not under the bus yet.
McHenry County. Republicans once fantasized McHenry as the next DuPage. Reagan won 47,282-14,420, and once-sleepy towns such as Crystal Lake, McHenry and Woodstock have had a rapid influx of working class whites over the past 20 years. Bush won by 21,414 votes in 2000, and Trump won by 11,290 votes, in a turnout of 130,944, getting just 54 percent of the vote. Forget the DuPage County scenario.
Kane County: The Fox River Valley runs along the east border, connecting largely Republican Batavia, Saint Charles and Geneva, but as shown by Clinton’s 17,302-vote win, the real power lies in Elgin and Aurora, both with significant Hispanic populations. Bush won by 16,689 votes, but Kane has flipped.
Illinois has become, and will continue to become, more Democratic.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.