By Jia You
As Mayor Rahm Emanuel settles in for his second term, Medill Reports takes a closer look at voting patterns in the 50 wards during the city’s first-ever mayoral runoff , and answers some of your burning questions about the election.
1. Turnout: Were voters more enthusiastic for the runoff?
Short answer: Yes. Voter turnout increased in all wards during the runoff, compared to the February general election. Overall, close to 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the runoff, compared to 34 percent in the general election.
The race’s high stakes, and the fact that voters had only two candidates to choose from, may have contributed to higher voter turnout, said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former alderman.
“It’s a more focused choice,” he said.“And the voters think that the outcome is important for the city.”
Indeed, research shows that people often tune out when facing too many choices, a factor that might partly explain voter apathy during the general election, said Mary Pattillo, a sociology and African-American studies professor at Northwestern University.
“When you have a lot of candidates it’s a little overwhelming,” she said.
Nonetheless, Pattillo was disappointed that fewer than half the city’s registered voters cast ballots in a race that could shape the city’s future.
“I just don’t think 40 percent is enough,” she said.
2. The winner: Who captured which wards?
Short answer: Emanuel won 35 of 50 wards in the runoff. The results showed a clear divide along racial lines. Emanuel captured all the black wards and most of the white wards, whereas voters in all but one Hispanic ward voted for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Though both candidates prioritized outreach to black voters during the runoff, Emanuel — with his nearly $7 million TV ad spending — succeeded in highlighting Garcia’s inexperience in city government, and persuaded black voters that he could handle the city’s financial crisis, said Arness Dancy, CEO of the Chicagoland Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.
“Emanuel defined Garcia before he could define himself,” he said.
In addition, Emanuel spoke more pointedly to black voters, emphasizing his role in bringing President Barack Obama’s presidential library to the South Side, Pattillo said. In contrast, Garcia failed to capitalize on his connection to the late Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, nor did Garcia articulate a clear agenda for the black community.
“I think Garcia was more framing himself as the people’s candidate, but not the ‘this is what I will do,’” she said.
3. Most improved player: Which candidate upped his game more?
Short answer: Garcia. A closer look at the results showed that Garcia gained votes in most wards during the runoff, relative to his performance in February. Emanuel, on the other hand, lost voters in 14 wards.
A split within the black community may have helped Garcia, Dancy said. Younger black voters were less impressed by Emanuel’s “Obama effect,” and identified more with Garcia.
“As people transition and get older, the younger generation is saying they want a different direction,” he said.
Garcia’s popularity also marked the growth of Chicago’s Latino population and electorate, who were upset over violent crimes and school closures in their neighborhoods, Pattillo said.
“It’s quite impressive that Garcia was able to mount such a challenge and push him to a runoff,” she said.
4. Wilson, Fioretti, and Walls: Where did votes for them go?
Short answer: where their endorsements went. Though none of the three candidates won a ward during the general election, their endorsements still swung support for Emanuel and Garcia.
In eight of 10 wards where Robert “Bob” Fioretti garnered most votes, Emanuel gained even more ground from Garcia during the runoff — consistent with Fioretti’s endorsement of the mayor.
Likewise, among the 10 wards that gave Willie Wilson the most support during the general election, all but one saw Emanuel’s lead over Garcia decline during the runoff, consistent with Wilson’s endorsement of Garcia. Votes in the top 10 William “Dock” Walls wards followed the same trend, though Walls didn’t endorse either candidate during the runoff.
At the end of the day, the runoff showed that the mayor didn’t win “overwhelming delight” during his first tenure, Pattillo said.
“To have someone with so much connection still be forced into a runoff, it showed that enough people were enough angry,” she said. “Emanuel has learned that a more charismatic leader could have really, really beat him. What if Karen Lewis ran?”
Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, withdrew from the mayoral race in October after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Members from the candidates’ campaign offices weren’t available for comment.
(Data source: Chicago Board of Elections)