Anti-Madigan messages might have edge on anti-Rauner messages

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Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. | Sun-Times photos

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan will be on the ballot in just one of Illinois’ 118 House districts this November, but his name and reputation will be featured in electoral battles throughout the state.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Republican Party will use Madigan against every Democrat from J.B. Pritzker on down to maybe even mosquito abatement district races.

Can Madigan’s lousy statewide image be used to defeat his fellow Democrats?


On the surface anyway, Madigan is less popular in Democratic Illinois than are unpopular Republicans Rauner and President Donald Trump. Sixty percent of Illinoisans polled in a recent Capitol Fax/We Ask America survey said they had an unfavorable view of Madigan, compared to 56 percent for President Donald Trump and 55 percent for Rauner.

They’re all doing pretty poorly, but Trump “wins” this category if you look at people with “very unfavorable” opinions. Forty-nine percent of 600 likely Illinois voters who were polled June 9-11 hold a very unfavorable view of the president, while 46 say they have a very unfavorable opinion of the Illinois speaker and 39 percent say that about the Republican governor. In contrast, 27 percent say that about J.B. Pritzker. The poll’s margin of error was +/-3.99 percent.

Overall, the poll found that Pritzker led Rauner by nine points, 36-27, with 26 percent choosing an unnamed third-party candidate and 11 percent undecided.

Just 31 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of Speaker Madigan, while 41 percent of Democrats have an unfavorable view, according to the poll. And lots of folks within what’s considered the “base” of the Democratic Party’s statewide strength don’t like Madigan, either. African-Americans are split 43-43. Women turn thumbs down 27-56 fave/unfave, as do Chicagoans (30-58), suburban Cook County residents (34-53) and labor union households (36-54).

Rauner has his own troubles with his party’s base. The only important GOP demographic he’s not underwater with outside of self-declared Republicans is senior citizens, and they just barely tolerate him. The Democrats are sure to use Rauner’s name and reputation against Republican candidates throughout the state.

So, my pollster came up with a question to try to see who was more popular (or unpopular, as the case may be) with voters in actual down-ballot races: “If the election for state legislator were being held today, are you more likely to vote for a candidate supported by Bruce Rauner, or a candidate supported by Michael Madigan?”

Forty-one percent said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate backed by Rauner, while 32 percent said the same about Madigan. Another 27 percent said it wouldn’t make any difference either way.

While majorities or pluralities of Democratic base elements chose Madigan, significant minorities chose Rauner. For instance, 11 percent of Democrats chose a legislative candidate backed by Rauner, compared to 59 percent for Madigan (among Republicans, those numbers were 6 percent Madigan and 79 percent Rauner).

Among African-Americans, a significant 23 percent would choose a Rauner-backed candidate and 54 percent would choose a Madigan-backed legislative contender. Chicagoans were 19 percent for a Rauner candidate and 43 for a Madigan person; the Cook County suburbs went 32 for a Rauner candidate and 41 for a Madigan candidate, and union households broke 30 percent for the Rauner candidate to 43 percent for the Madigan candidate.

Another way of looking at it is that Rauner out-performs his personal favorable/unfavorable ratings across the board when we stack him up against the image of Speaker Madigan.

Just 36 percent of whites viewed Rauner favorably, but 44 percent would vote for a Rauner candidate over a Madigan candidate. Thirty-six percent of collar county voters like Rauner, but 49 percent would pick a Rauner candidate over the 29 percent who’d choose a Madigan candidate. Forty-four percent of Downstaters said they had a favorable impression of Rauner, and 51 percent would vote for a Rauner-backed candidate over a Madigan-backed candidate. I could go on, but you get the idea.

So, what does this tell us? Well, first of all, neither state politician is beloved (duh). Indeed, they’re so disliked that candidates should avoid any association with the both of them. But hotly contested campaigns are often won on the edges, and the anti-Madigan message might have an edge over the anti-Rauner message.

We didn’t do this test with President Trump, who will certainly be used by the Democrats against the Republicans in many areas. And there are other issues out there that will decide various races. Plus, as always, this is just one poll in June.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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