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The Pulse

Braun's upset win as Democratic nominee

By NICK PANAGAKIS

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Carol Mosely Braun overcame some obstacles to win the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator. Her opponents, incumbent Sen. Alan J. Dixon and Chicago attorney Albert F. Hofeld, outspent her campaign by millions of dollars. She also failed to get the number of votes from blacks that conventional wisdom considered essential for a statewide win.

About 1.6 million votes were cast in the Democratic primary. Only 232,000 came from Chicago's 19 black wards, 100,000 votes short of 1988 and 1984 primaries when Jesse Jackson ran for president and Roland Burris for U.S. senator. Comparing black wards in March with past Chicago mayoral elections, the vote count was 230,000 short of 1987 and 100,000 under 1989. Turnout in black wards this March was much closer to 1991's lackluster voter turnout.

Braun made up for this shortfall by winning a majority of the vote in suburban Cook County and by gaining strong support elsewhere in Chicago, especially in lakefront wards. Cook County as a whole, which casts about 60 percent of the statewide vote, voted for Braun by a margin of 150,000. She won most of the counties adjacent to Cook as well.

A so-called crossover vote helped Braun too. In Cook County suburbs, 168,000 Republican primary ballots were cast, about the same as in 1988. But the 299,000 who voted in the Democratic primary from Cook County suburbs was 54,000 more than in 1988 and made history as 31.4 percent of the total Democratic primary vote in the county.

Table 1. Recognition and opinion of candidates in preelection polls, February 2 and March 1

 

Heard of Candidate Favorable opinion Unfavorable opinion

 

Feb. 2 Mar. 1 Feb. 2 Mar. 1 Feb. 2 Mar. 1
Dixon 98% 99% 48% 40% 26% 35%
Hofeld 63% 83% 24% 23% 7% 23%
Braun 57% 66% 28% 32% 7% 6%

Braun won the nomination with 38 percent of the vote to 35 percent for incumbent Dixon and 27 percent for challenger Hofeld. Two Chicago Tribune polls we conducted among Illinois Democratic primary voters on the first of February and first of March reveal the reasons for her upset win. In February, Dixon led Braun by 19 percentage points, but his lead dropped to 10 percentage points by March. Since in March more than 10 percent of the voters were still undecided 16 percent there was room for Braun to expand her voter base, according to Chicago Tribune writer Thomas Hardy. Undecided voters tend not to vote for the incumbent. (This pattern was first documented in Illinois Issues in "The Pulse," November 1987 and April 1989.)

Challenger Hofeld spent over $4 million hammering Dixon with anti-incumbent messages on TV and with direct mail ads. Results of the two Tribune polls show the success of his campaign (see table 1). Hofeld succeeded in becoming better known than Braun. By March 1 he was known by 83 percent of Illinois Democratic voters. By March 1 Braun, who could not afford a statewide media campaign, was known by only 41 percent outside the

30/May 1992/Illinois Issues


Table 2. Dixon's seniority a benefit for Illinois v time for a change
(March 1 poll)

 

All voters Dixon voters Hofeld voters Braun voters Undecided voters
Do more for Illinois 35% 70% 11% 11% 21%
Time for a change 52% 16% 81% 83% 51%
Don't know 13% 14% 7% 5% 28%

Chicago metro area and overall by only 66 percent of Democratic voters statewide.

Braun had served as a state legislator and currently serves as the Cook County recorder of deeds. Political newcomer Hofeld served as a kind of "recorder of Dixon misdeeds" in his media blitz, which gained him name recognition but at some cost. In March, as many Democratic primary voters liked him as disliked him. Hofeld's campaign seemed to fall short of giving voters positive reasons to vote for him.

The Hofeld campaign did have an effect on voter attitudes toward Dixon. Favorable opinion of Dixon slipped from 48 percent to 40 percent by March 1 while unfavorable voter opinion of Dixon climbed from 26 percent to 35 percent. The campaign appears to have driven voters to the lesser known but better liked Carol Mosely Braun. Among Braun voters on March 1, 64 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Dixon and only 20 percent were favorable of him. And 36 percent of Braun voters didn't like Hofeld either while only 15 percent had favorable opinions of him.

Braun voters were as negative toward Dixon as Hofeld voters, more indication that Braun attracted votes away from Dixon because of Hofeld's campaign. Hofeld voters unfavorable/favorable ratio toward Dixon was 59/15 percent. On Dixon's job in office both groups disapproved about equally, 67 percent, and only 23 percent approved. And 69 percent of both voter groups agreed that Dixon was too closely tied to interest groups, an anti-incumbent theme of the Hofeld campaign.

Virtually all of Dixon's voters thought he would win the primary, and half of Hofeld's voters thought their candidate would win. Only one-fourth of Braun voters thought she would win, indicating either a strong commitment to the candiate or a protest against the incumbent and Hofeld's negative campaign.

In the March 1 poll, we asked whether voters believed Dixon could do more for Illinois than his opponents because of his seniority and committee memberships (a case for the incumbent), or whether he had been in office long enough and it was time for a change (see table 2). Only 35 percent thought Dixon could be more effective than his opponents, the exact vote percentage he got on election day. Among both Hofeld and Braun voters, more than four in five bought the anti-incumbent message of the Hofeld campaign. Half of the undecided voters thought it was time for a change.

Voter Research and Surveys exit polling shows that Braun won 43 percent of women voters. She also won 34 percent of men voters. In a three-candidate race, a third of the vote is the norm. Female candidates won an unusual number of other races, quite likely by attracting votes from both women and men. Anti-incumbent sentiment was high, and female candidates are likely to be perceived as the ultimate outsiders.

As the classic underdog who pulled an upset victory, Braun will be a formidable opponent in November. A win will be historic. She has become a symbol, difficult to run against. Only 9 percent of women thought she could win the primary. That perception of electability has now changed and will increase her voter support. Only 20 percent of black voters thought she would win the primary, which could be why turnout in that community was so poor, but come November a resurgence in black voter turnout is likely.

Her Republican opponent is Richard S. Williamson of Kennilworth, who won his nomination without opposition.

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 the news media in Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin.

May 1992/Illinois Issues/31


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