Cook County's two 'third parties'
By NICK PANAGAKIS
Both a blue-ribbon slate of GOP candidates for Cook County offices and the all-black Harold Washington Party's vow to right the Democratic party's past wrongs proved underwhelming on November 6.
The election results confirmed, once again, that Cook County Republicans do not actually win county office but instead succeed only when Democrats fail. The election results also confirmed that the Washington party was able neither to bring down Democrats it targeted for defeat nor to elect one of its own candidates to Cook County office.
The GOP gained one office in Cook County. Jack O'Malley was elected state's attorney with 53 percent of the vote, but there is no evidence that the Washington party drew away the votes that caused defeat of the targeted Democratic incumbent, Cecil Partee. O'Malley won with a majority, and he would have been a winner even without the third party candidate on the ballot.
O'Malley defeated Partee because Partee had become unpopular with the voters. That is the same pattern for the GOP's last two Cook County successes, in 1972 for state's attorney and in 1986 for sheriff. A Republican win in Cook County depends more on the Democrat's poor record in office than on the Republican challenger's credentials.
Republicans in turn lost a Cook County office held by their own unpopular incumbent: GOP Sheriff James O'Grady went down in one of the worst Republican defeats in recent Cook County history. As early as one year ago, our Chicago Tribune polls showed O'Grady in deep trouble with voters for failing to live up to his campaign promise to rid the department of politics and corruption. O'Grady lost to Democrat Michael Sheahan. Sheahan got 55 percent; O'Grady got 29 percent, which redefines the base level of Republican support in Cook County. Even unknown Republicans in 1986 and 1988 did better.
Was the Washington party a spoiler for any of the targeted Democrats? Sheahan was one of the targets, but he won the sheriffs race with 55 percent of the vote. Other Democratic candidates for county office won with majorities of a magnitude similar to past elections. Since the regular candidates got over half of the vote, the third party did not even come close to being a spoiler.
The role of spoiler by the Washington party was doomed from the beginning because all voters are naturally inclined to vote for candidates and don't use their votes for some strategic effect.
Based on the November election returns, the level of support for the Harold
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Washington Party in Chicago is about 20 percent. That percentage was received in the city by Washington party leader R. Eugene Pincham in his unsuccessful bid to become a Cook County commissioner and that same percentage was received in the city by the party's best performing candidates for county offices.
The Washington party received less than half of the support of the black community. Its strongest candidate, Tommy Brewer for Cook County sheriff, got 46 percent of the vote in the 19 predominantly black Chicago wards. But Democrat Sheahan got even more; he beat Brewer in 12 of the 19 wards and won a majority of the vote in eight.
With the support of nearly half the black community, the Washington party remains strong enough to stay alive as the party for dissident black voters but probably too weak to materially affect the outcome of any election, including the 1991 mayoral election. Its only apparent accomplishment was to divide the black community. Another Democrat targeted by the Washington party was Neil F. Hartigan. He lost his gubernatorial bid statewide by a deficit of nearly 100,000 votes, little of which is traceable to Washington party efforts or lower black turnout. The voter turnout trend in Chicago's 19 black wards has been downward, from a high 38 percent share of the total city vote in 1982, to 35 percent in 1986, to 32 percent in this election. If black wards had equaled their 1982 share of Chicago's vote (when they were demonstrating a show of force to get Harold Washington to declare for mayor), 45,000 more votes would have been cast. That number is less than half of Hartigan's losing margin, and some of those votes would have gone to Jim Edgar, the GOP winner.
Edgar ended up with 20 percent of the vote in Chicago's 19 black wards. That was what media polls were showing he would get before some Harold Washington Party leaders had called for their followers to vote for him. Their pleas added no new Edgar voters.
Nick Panagakis is president of Market Shares Corporation, a marketing and public opinion research firm headquartered in Mount Prospect. Panagakis, a member of the National Council on Public Polls, is best known for preelection and exit polls conducted for news media in Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin.
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