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By DAVID H. EVERSON and JOAN A. PARKER

Illinois' 1980 presidential primary: an assessment

There was an upsurge in Republican votes, but the crossover vote benefited Reagan more than Anderson. If the Democrat delegates had been chosen by proportional representation, Kennedy would have won 46, not 14 delegates

UNTIL recently, the Illinois presidential primary attracted little national attention from either the candidates or the media. The primary was a "beauty contest" for presidential candidates, and party organization dominated the delegate selection process.

But in 1976, and again in 1980, Illinois' primary became an important battleground in the long struggle for the presidential nominations. The primary was of particular interest to Illinoisans because three of the GOP candidates have Illinois connections: Congressman John B. Anderson represents the 16th District, Congressman Philip Crane the 12th District and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois. The Illinois primary gained national significance because of its early date in the nomination process and because it was the first test in a large, northern industrial state. Furthermore, because of the lessons of 1976, most major candidates were attempting to gain delegates in all states and could not bypass Illinois. In 1976, candidate Jimmy Carter did not neglect Illinois and won a significant number of delegates by running slates downstate.

Now that the smoke of battle has cleared, the effects of the Illinois primary rules and the significance of the results of the primary in 1980 can be assessed. While the Republican "blind primary" received most of the media attention, the winner-take-all rules for Democratic delegate selection (at the congressional district level) hurt Ted Kennedy more than the blind primary damaged any Republican candidate. The now-fabled "crossover" vote also resulted in a surprise boost for the candidacy of conservative Reagan and not for Anderson, as many had predicted. Turnout was up substantially in the Republican primary, which demonstrated the importance of the crossover vote permitted under Illinois primary rules. Finally, the results in Illinois proved typical of the nation and helped to determine the course of the rest of the nomination season.

One of the most troublesome aspects of the Illinois presidential primary is its complicated rule structure. Rules differ for each party although both have a nonbinding preference vote for presidential candidates and a separate delegate selection process (in many other primary states, the preference vote determines the allocation of delegates). Also, in each party, the delegates are chosen at the congressional district level; the delegates receiving the highest vote totals are elected by district. This latter provision is in clear violation of Democratic party rules which now require proportional representation. Illinois received a special exemption for its "loophole" primary from the Democratic National Committee and its Compliance Review Commission (see Congressional Quarterly, Sept. 15, 1979, p. 2006). A "loophole" primary is defined as one which selects delegates on a winner-take-all basis in each congressional district.

This Democratic aberration, however, did not cause as much public stir in Illinois as the Republican "blind, primary." An amendment to the Illinois Election Code, adopted in June 1979, permitted the state central committees of the parties to omit official designation of presidential candidate preference on the ballot next to the name of the delegate candidates. The Republicans exercised the option, purportedly to give flexibility to the Illinois delegation and to enhance the influence of Gov. James R. Thompson at the national convention. It should be pointed out that "blind primaries"are nothing new on the American political scene or in Illinois, and are supported in some states as attempts to enhance state party influence. An uncommitted delegation headed by a strong political leader could be quite influential as a power broker at a national convention where no candidate appears a certain winner. Such arguments, however, run smack against the current tide of opinion that the delegate selection process, and indeed the presidential nomination, ought to be subject to as much

The winner-take-all rules for Democratic delegate selection hurt Ted Kennedy more than the blind primary damaged any Republican candidate

8/August 1980/Illinois Issues


direct popular control as possible. It also runs against history, since brokered conventions seem to be relics of the past. No aspect of the 1980 Illinois primary would turn out to be as controversial as the "blind primary" (see Robert Kieckhefer's "Politics," Illinois Issues, September 1979 and May 1980; also see accompanying article, "The primary ballot: simplify, simplify," by Paul T. David).

Turnout in Illinois presidential primaries has been on the rise in the 1970's. There are at least two reasons: first, competitiveness in presidential primaries, and, second, the ability of Illinois voters to "crossover" and vote in the opposition primary. There was competition in both parties in the 1980 Illinois primary, but the competition was much more intense among Republicans and resulted in increased turnout in that contest.

Voter turnout increase

Overall turnout in the Illinois primary since 1952 shows an upward trend since 1968 (see figure). However, it also appears that 1968 was an abnormally low turnout year, and that excluding 1968 turnouts for registered voters in the 1970's are similar to those in the 1950's and 1960's in terms of total votes cast. There has also been a tremendous increase in the turnout as a percentage of voting age population in presidential primary voting in Illinois in the 1970's; this turnout has almost doubled. The increase is undoubtedly a result of the increased importance of the presidential primary in the state and the ability of voters to crossover from one party to another.

The most important turnout development in 1980 was not, however, the modest rise in overall turnout. Rather, it was the upsurge in voting in the Republican primary fueled by the "crossover" and independent vote attracted by Anderson and Reagan. There were approximately 400,000 more votes in the Republican primary in 1980 than in 1976. The upsurge in Republican voting, however, was not the result of "raiding" (in this case, Democrats seeking to influence the selection of a weaker candidate for the

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Table 1
Democratic presidential primary in
Illinois, March 1980

Preference vote

Delegates won

Delegates hypothetically
won by proportional
representation

Carter

780,787
(65%)

138

106

Kennedy

359,875
(30%)

14

46

Brown

39,168
(3%)

0

0

LaRouche

19,192
(2%)

0

0

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections. Note: An additonal 27 delegates were selected at the Democratic State Convention in late April. Of those, 25 of the 27 went to President Carter.

other party). Rather, the increase was attributable to the lack of a close race among Democrats while there was a close race among Republicans. Turnout in the Democratic primary was actually down slightly, with the decline occurring downstate (see Congressional Quarterly, March 22, 1980, p. 783).

The outcome of the preference vote on the Democratic side was accurately forecast by the polls of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, and typified President Carter's strong showing elsewhere. Although challenger Ted Kennedy had expected to do well in this first test in a major industrial state, he was bested by President Carter 65 to 30. There was scattered support for other candidates including Jerry Brown. What was remarkable about the Carter blitz was that it was uniform throughout the state; Carter won by 62 percent in Chicago, 69 percent in the suburbs and 68 percent downstate, carried all 102 counties and 48 of the 50 wards of the city of Chicago (Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, March 22, 1980, p. 783). In the preference vote, President Carter's triumph was substantial.

Republican results

On the Republican side, the contest was much closer, and some polls showed Anderson ahead just before the election. Perhaps as a result of a tandidate forum among the Republicans, there was a late swing to Reagan and he won decisively with 48 percent of the preference vote. Anderson won 37 percent, and a disappointed Bush had 11 percent. Reagan carried 95 of the 102 counties. Anderson carried the others, including the giant Cook; his home county, Winnebago; two neighboring counties, Stephenson and Boone; two counties with large university communities, DeKalb and Champaign; and one of the suburban collar counties, Lake. As might be expected, Anderson ran well in the suburban areas around Chicago.

It seems evident that some of the 400,000 increase in Republican votes came from voters who usually vote Democratic, but crossed over and took a Republican ballot. Initially, observers thought these crossovers would be liberal Democrats who might hurt the Kennedy cause. The CBS-NY Times exit poll, however, showed something very surprising. While it was true that "liberal and moderate crossovers provided the majority of support for Mr. Anderson," according to the Times, it was also true that "another stream of crossover voters provided Mr. Reagan with a substantial following of more conservative independents." Indeed, the poll estimated that one-third of all crossover voters went for Reagan. This development showed Reagan's appeal to independents and conservative Democrats.

On the delegate side, the loophole primary worked to the benefit of President Carter and the detriment of Kennedy. While Carter captured 65 percent of the preference vote, he won 91 percent of the delegates selected. Even in Chicago, Kennedy was able to win only 29 percent of the delegates. The totals for the delegate primary were 138 for Carter and only 14 for Kennedy. If delegates had been elected proportionately on a statewide basis according to the preference vote, Carter would have won 106 delegates and Kennedy 46 delegates (see table 1).

The picture is the same if selected individual counties are examined (see table 2). For this analysis seven counties were selected, ranging from Winnebago in the far north to Jackson in the deep south, and from east to west across the state Rock Island, Peoria, Sangamon, Champaign and Vermilion. The Carter margin ranged from 75:20 to 64:32 in these counties, and the total votes cast for Kennedy and Carter delegates in these counties was very similar to the beauty contest vote. Each of these seven counties is the nucleus of a congressional district; 44 delegates were elected in the seven congressional districts which contain these counties. All 44 went to Carter

Table 2
Democratic presidential primary results by selected Illinois counties

Jimmy Carter

Edward Kennedy

County,
Congressional
District

% preference vote

% delegate vote

Number of
delegates*

% prefervote

% delegate vote

Number of
delegates*

Champaign, 21st D

65

60

6

32

29

0

Jackson, 24th D

75

75

6

20

20

0

Peoria, 18th D

72

72

6

25

24

0

Rock Island, 19th D

64

66

6

32

32

0

Sangamon, 20th D

65

65

7

32

29

0

Vermilion, 22nd D

69

69

7

26

27

0

Winnebago, 16th D

70

64

6

28

32

0

*Total delegates won in the congressional district containing the county; results for the individual county are similar to the district as a whole.

August 1980/Illinois Issues/11


On the Republican side, the delegate results were much closer to the preference voting despite the blind primary

even though Kennedy averaged 28 percent of the vote in the seven selected counties. If each district voted approximately the same as its major county, Kennedy would have been entitled to approximately one-fourth of these 44 delegates.

As Congressional Quarterly noted: "The president has won only 55 percent of the delegates in primary states where the delegates were divided proportionately. But in Illinois' loophole primary, he was able to capture 91 percent of the delegates . . . ."

On the Republican side, the delegate results were much closer to the preference voting despite the blind primary (see table 3). Reagan won 40 delegates (44 percent) along with 48 percent of the preference vote; Anderson won 26 delegates (28 percent) while winning 37 percent of the preference vote. Bush, with his 11 percent of the vote, would have been entitled to 10 delegates under proportional representation, but he ended up with only two delegates. Tacitly cooperating with the Thompson strategy on the blind primary, Bush ran only a few delegate slates. Crane won three delegates (3 percent) with 2.2 percent of the preference vote. The other 21 delegates elected were uncommitted, as determined by the Republican State Central Committee after the election.

Republican statewide results for delegates while not exactly parallel were closer to voter preference sentiments than the Democrats. However, since it was a blind primary, the only way to know for certain who the uncommitted delegates prefer is to watch their votes at the convention. Candidates did attempt "voter education" campaigns prior to the primary to let voters know which delegates on the ballot were committed to them.

Ultimately, what role did the Illinois primary play in the national selection process of 1980? Back in March, the Illinois primary was expected to provide the initial "fair test" between Carter and Kennedy. Kennedy lost and his candidacy was heavily damaged. Even his upset wins in New York and Connecticut a week later were insufficient to establish him as a real threat to the president. As is often the case, Illinois mirrored the nation in its primary results on the Democratic side.

Table 3
Republican presidential primary in Illinois, March 1980

Preference vote

Delegates won*

Delegates hypothetically
won by proportional
representation

Reagan

547,355
(48%)

40

44

Anderson

415,193
(37%)

26

34

Bush

124,057
(11%)

2

10

Crane

24,865
(2%)

3

2

All others

18,611
(2%)

0

2

Uncommitted

21

0

Source: Illinois State Board of Elections. *Because it was a blind primary, delegate preference was determined after the election by the Republican State Central Committee, which reported that 21 of Illinois' 92 delegates were officially uncommitted (Congressional Quarterly, March 22, 1980, p. 781). An additional 10 delegates were chosen at the Republican State Convention. As of June 13, Reagan claimed 71 of Illinois' 102 Republican delegates.

Campaign casualties

Several Republican candidates fell by the wayside just prior to the Illinois primary, which undoubtedly affected the results. It had been expected that John Connally would make a major push in the state and be a significant contender for the conservative vote. It was thought that Connally would be the ultimate beneficiary of the blind primary strategy. But his loss to Reagan in the South Carolina primary on March 8 forced his withdrawal from the race. Howard Baker and Crane also dropped out of the race before the Illinois vote. With Connally and Crane out of the picture, this left a clear conservative field for Reagan, with the moderate Republican vote still divided between Bush and Anderson. Reagan's Illinois victory was a clear signal that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to deny him the Republican nomination.

In retrospect, Illinois may also have been crucial for the Anderson candidacy. The failure to win Illinois, his home state, may have convinced Anderson that he could never win the Republican nomination. On the other hand, his relatively strong showing in certain areas and especially his strength in the Chicago suburbs, may have encouraged his independent candidacy.

As this article is being written, the Reagan nomination appears secure at the Republican Convention July 14-17. He has 1,551 delegates and only 998 are needed. The Democratic nomination appears somewhat less certain because Kennedy is carrying the fight to the convention August 11-14; yet Carter had 1,783 delegates, according to the June report by Congressional Quarterly, and 1,666 will win the nomination.

Near the end of the process for presidential nominations, it seems dear that the Illinois primary results confirmed, and contributed to, what was a relatively easy path for the apparent national convention nominees, Carter and Reagan.

David H. Everson is director of the Illinois Legislative Studies Center, Sangamon State University, and is the author of "Increase-decrease: Voting behaviour in Illinois primaries" in Illinois Elections (published by Illinois Issues). Joan A. Parker is associated with the center and is the co-author with Everson of "Ticket-splitting: An ominous sign of party weakness" and "Voter turnout decline, "published in Illinois Issues and reprinted in Illinois Elections.

12/August 1980/Illinois Issues


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