What stunned me more? I saw not one sign for Obama.
That originally inspired me to write a column positing the possibility of a Romney victory in Illinois, but given that virtually every poll shows President Obama carrying his home state of Illinois again this year by a wide margin, my sage and sensible editors recommended against it. So here are some related thoughts about what this year’s presidential election might presage in Illinois more generally.
Conventional wisdom considers Illinois to be reliably Democrat. Recent history is certainly on the side of that interpretation: Illinois’ electoral votes have gone to the Democrat presidential candidate every year since 1992. But Illinois’ electorate has switched back and forth, voting for Democrat candidates for presidents 22 times since 1828, and Republican candidates 24 times. And from 1860 to 1988, Illinois voted more reliably Republican for president than Democrat.
Thus, the pendulum can swing. And a review of the past five presidential elections – as well as activity within the state this year – reveal some very interesting trends that Illinois (and national) Democrats ignore at their peril.
In 1992, Illinois went BIG for Clinton. A county-by-county review shows the state overwhelmingly blue. Out of slightly more than 5M votes cast, Clinton won a plurality of 2.4M votes. (Ross Perot pulled votes away from incumbent Republican President George H. W. Bush.) Clinton won Cook County by 58.2%, and these 1.2M votes represented 50.9% of the total votes Clinton received in Illinois.
In 1996, Illinois was distinctly less blue. Running as an incumbent against the soporific Bob Dole, Clinton received 2.3M out of 4.3M votes. 1.1M of these came from Cook County, where he got 66% of the total vote. Cook County represented 49.2% of the total votes Clinton received in Illinois.
In 2000, Illinois was now definitely trending red, with only 23 “blue” counties of 102 total. Al Gore won Illinois with 2.5M of 4.7M votes cast. Gore took 68.6% of the votes in Cook County - slightly less than 1.3M – and these accounted for 49.4% of the all the votes Gore received in Illinois.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.