Republicans in the Prairie State tried to frame the 2022 elections as a referendum on indicted former Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, unpopular incumbent Democratic Governor J. B. Pritzker, and the Democratic approach to crime. However, as was generally the case nationwide, Illinois’ Republican slate failed to generate enough conservative turnout and independent support to meaningfully change the political landscape.
Pritzker won his second term as governor by defeating GOP state Senator Darren Bailey. Incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth dispatched Republican challenger Kathy Salvi. And the Illinois Democratic Party netted a seat in Congress by winning fourteen of the state’s seventeen U.S. House seats. (Because of its declining population, Illinois lost its eighteenth seat in Congress’s lower chamber.)
Illinois is No Different: Candidate Quality Matters
Ahead of the November 8 general election, the Republicans held a June 28 primary to determine their gubernatorial nominee. Richard Irvin, the GOP mayor of Aurora, held the early lead in the GOP primary polls. However, Pritkzer financed millions of dollars of ads for Bailey, who represents one of Illinois’ southernmost Senate districts and was widely seen as less than palatable to a statewide audience.
Republican stalwarts like Richard Porter, the state’s Republican national committeeman, warned voters not to nominate Bailey, arguing that “a downstate farmer with an accent, who’s not familiar in Chicago and its suburbs, will not be as effective with . . . swing voters.” Nonetheless, Bailey won the Republican primary with a commanding 58% of the vote in a field of six candidates.
Bailey’s general-election talking points included agriculture, education, firearm rights, taxes, and his devotion to “the sanctity of life.” Meanwhile, the Pritzker campaign pivoted from boosting Bailey to producing ads painting him as “too extreme for Illinois,” citing comments he made about the abortion issue.
Come November 8, Pritzker defeated Bailey by twelve points and gained ground in the suburbs that made former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner competitive in 2018, a “blue wave” cycle.
DuPage County, directly west of Chicago, backed Pritzker by two points in 2018 but gave him a 15-point margin of victory in 2022. Pritzker also improved his standing in Lake County, increasing his margin of victory there from eight points in 2018 to 24 in 2022. (Lake, north of Chicago, contains affluent suburbs like Highland Park.) Will is the only suburban Chicago county that Bailey outperformed Rauner in.
As Pritzker won by twelve points, down-ballot Democrats won the generic congressional ballot by approximately eleven.* In other words, one percent of voters supported congressional Republicans but not Bailey. He had what election junkies would call “negative coattails.”
Compare Illinois to New York, a blue state where Democrats won the generic congressional ballot by a similar margin.** There, GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin ran on solutions to crime, acquiesced to the status quo on abortion, and lost by only six points. Zeldin’s positive coattails boosted down-ballot Republicans like Mike Lawler, who defeated Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney in a Biden +10 district.
The Illinois-New York dichotomy reinforces a broader national theme: Republicans performed poorly where they ignored candidate quality and appeal and well where they nominated solid, politically adept candidates.
Democrats Score Big on Gerrymandering
In elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat-friendly redistricting after the 2020 census sent all but three Republican candidates to defeat. Even as Illinois’ declining population cost it a congressional seat, Democrats picked up a district and Republicans lost two.
Illinois Democrats’ success with gerrymandering is best illustrated by the fact that the tightest margin in a Republican-won district was by 33 points. Conversely, Democrats won three districts by single digits. And with just 56% of the generic congressional vote, Illinois Democrats won a whopping 82% of the state’s U.S. House seats.
Compare those results to New York, where courts struck down a Democrat-gerrymandered map. The share of House seats won by each party closely reflected the congressional ballot, with Democrats leading Republicans fifteen to eleven.
Redistricting also facilitated Democratic victories in both Illinois’ General Assembly and judicial elections. Despite record numbers of contested elections, Democrats gained four seats in the state House and are projected to lose just two seats in the state Senate, maintaining their supermajority.
Meanwhile, a drastic overhaul of nearly sixty-year-old maps allowed Democrats to shut down chances of a Republican majority on the Illinois Supreme Court. Democrats clinched victories in both the newly redrawn second and third judicial districts.
Illinois Passes Amendment 1
Another big headline from Illinois’ 2022 election was the passage of Amendment 1, a state constitutional change that proponents dubbed the “Workers’ Rights Amendment,” by a seventeen-point margin.
Amendment 1 will add new language into the state constitution establishing a “fundamental right” for employees to “organize and collectively bargain” for a wide range of topics, including “wages, hours, . . . working conditions” and “economic welfare and safety” at work.
Public-sector unions and labor advocates, who had argued that establishing collective bargaining as a constitutional right in Illinois would level the playing field for workers, widely applauded the passage of Amendment 1. On the other hand, opponents pointed to its vague language, the prospect of increased tax burdens, and the potential for significant legal abuse as reasons to reject the amendment.
Perry Zhao is a senior editor for the Chicago Thinker. He is currently a fourth year in the College majoring in Economics and Philosophy and minoring in History. He hopes to attend law school after graduation. Outside of class, he is an amateur guitarist, home cook, and marathon runner.