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The Pulse

Voting for rather than
against mayoral candidates

Nick Panagakis


Mayoral elections in 1983 and 1987 were won by gaining at least some support from all three of Chicago's ethnic constituencies —whites, blacks and Hispanics. In those elections, the late Harold Washington won by adding an increment of about 18 percent of the white vote to his core support of black voters. The likely surprise after 1991 mayoral primary ballots are counted is that a comparable percentage of black Chicagoans will vote for the white incumbent, Richard J. Daley, in the Democratic primary.

Our first Tribune poll for the 1991 Chicago mayoral election was completed in mid-January and showed a surprising number of blacks prepared to vote for Daley, much higher than the 6 percent he received in 1989. The poll also showed that the attitudes about the candidates from white, black and Hispanic constituencies were far more positive than negative. The most significant attitudes are those of black and white voters.

Mid-January poll on Mayor Daley







Opinion of Daley









No opinion




Daley job approval









No opinion




Daley for mayor









No opinion




At this writing at the end of January, it was clear from the poll that most votes to be cast in the February 1991 primary would be an expression of approval for candidates. That is a significant shift for Chicago mayoral elections because many votes in past elections were cast against rather than for candidates. Chicagoans voted against Michael Bilandie in 1979 and against Jane Byrne in 1983. Many of the votes cast in 1987 and 1989 were also against a candidate, either against Washington or Ed Vrdolyak.

In 1991 our mid-January poll shows that Daley was better liked and more acceptable to voters than past mayoral candidates. Among all voters 71 percent had a favorable opinion of Daley, and only 12 percent were unfavorable. This was higher than the 55 to 27 percent rating he got before the 1989 general election and made him the most popular candidate for the office of mayor in recent years.

Among both whites and blacks, more voters had a favorable opinion of Daley than an unfavorable one, another first. White voters were strongly positive toward Daley: 89 percent favorable and 4 percent unfavorable. Blacks were more favorable toward him in mid-January than they have been toward any white mayoral candidate in recent elections: 48 percent favorable and 21 percent unfavorable. A Tribune pre-election poll in 1989 showed opposite results: 46 percent of black voters unfavorable toward Daley and 25 percent favorable.

Daley's chief opponent, Danny Davis, is a former west side alderman who won a seat on the Cook County Board in November. While opinion of Davis was only lukewarm — 35 favorable — more significant was his low unfavorable rating — only 15 percent. Almost half of all voters thought Davis was acceptable as mayor, and only 23 percent opposed his election, Only 26 percent of white voters had a negative opinion of Davis, who is black, Daley, however, could do no wrong, according to the mid-January poll. His refusal to debate his opponents could have

32/March 199 I/Illinois Issues

been an issue, but the poll showed that only 34 percent of all voters said he was wrong for not debating. This included only 23 percent of whites and 46 percent of blacks. Almost as many, 29 percent, didn't care whether he debated or not.

A key measure of incumbent strength is the percentage of voters who approve of the job the incumbent is doing. The poll showed job approval of Daley at 80 percent, the highest level for an incumbent mayor since 1977 when we first included this measure in Chicago media polls. Among blacks, 66 percent approved of the job Daley has done, and 29 percent disapproved, a better than two-to-one approval ratio.

Another fundamental measure of support is how many voters find a candidate acceptable to fill the office sought and how many do not. In the January poll, 80 percent of all voters said Daley was acceptable as mayor and only 11 percent said he was not. Among blacks 63 percent found Daley acceptable, and only 21 percent were absolutely opposed, much lower than the 34 percent who opposed his election in 1989.

This is a significant shift for Chicago mayoral elections because many votes in past elections were cast against rather than for candidates

In most Chicago mayoral elections before 1991, more white voters had negative than positive opinions of black candidates, and more black voters had negative opinions than positive opinions toward many white candidates. Earlier mayoral elections had become exercises in negative voting. The good news of 1991 is that most voters voted for a candidate they liked rather than against one they didn't like.

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 pre-election and exit polls conducted for the news media in Illinois,Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin.

March 1991/Illinois Issues/33

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