Illinois primary polls: Sean Casten edge over Marie Newman; wide open race to replace Bobby Rush

Polls at this stage – especially for the crowded 1st district primary - are used by campaigns to test messages, name ID and figure out the politics of the electorate.

SHARE Illinois primary polls: Sean Casten edge over Marie Newman; wide open race to replace Bobby Rush
The West Front of the U.S. Capitol building, shown in August 2021.

Heading into June 28 Illinois primary, new polls from Democratic candidates for Congress show trends in Illinois 1st and 6th districts

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WASHINGTON — Heading toward the June 28 Illinois primary, snapshots from polls taken for Rep. Sean Casten and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins — in competitive Democratic races in the 6th and 1st congressional districts — show them in decent positions and also provide insights into voter behavior and the electorate.

An interesting nugget of information from the poll taken for Casten — locked in a battle with another incumbent, Rep. Marie Newman — is that 46% of those polled in the 6th Congressional District, which sweeps in parts of suburban Cook and DuPage counties, prefer to vote in person on Election Day rather than take advantage of mail or early in-person voting options.

Both polls were of likely Democratic primary voters, though eventual turnout can vary wildly. In the poll taken for Collins, in a 17-person race to replace Rep. Bobby Rush, a whopping 84% of respondents said they are “almost certain” to vote in the primary, though the poll did not ask how. In the Casten survey, 63% said they were “certain to vote.”

This column is not written off a pollster’s summary, which often provides only the most favorable slivers from the survey.

The Casten and Collins campaigns provided me with a good portion of their respective polls so I could see how questions were asked.

Polls at this stage — especially for the crowded 1st district primary — are used by campaigns to test messages, name ID and figure out the politics of the electorate, all crucial to determining out how to target “their voters.”

Casten and Collins used well-known Democratic pollsters, who found respondents who mirrored the racial and gender make-up of their districts.

Illinois’ 1st Congressional District is in purple. The 6th Congressional District is highlighted in green.

Illinois’ 1st Congressional District is in purple. The 6th Congressional District is highlighted in green. All of the state’s congressional districts have new boundaries, after being redrawn based on results of the 2020 census.

6th District

Casten’s pollster, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, polled 402 likely Democratic primary voters between May 12-16, with a margin of error in the survey plus or minus 4.9%.

Respondents, asked if the election were held “today,” said they favored Casten, from Downers Grove, at 36% to 27% for Newman, from LaGrange and 2% for Charles Hughes, from Chicago.

In May, President Joe Biden’s total positive among those polled was 66% compared to 38% for Casten and 22% for Newman.

The trend is troubling for Newman; her positives are going down and Casten’s are going up. In January, Casten’s positive was 29% and Newman’s was 27%.

District demographics: Casten’s respondents were 57% female and 72% white; 12% Hispanic; 6% Black; 3% Asian-American and  3% who identified as Middle Eastern or Arab descent.

Advertising: Newman launched a modest cable ad buy last week. Casten on Friday released his first paid broadcast and cable spot, with initial buys for television ads planned to total at least $900,000.

1st District

Collins’ pollster, Lake Research Partners, polled 400 likely Democratic primary voters between May 10-12, with a margin of error plus or minus 4.9%

There are 17 contenders in the 1st district, which stretches from the near South Side to outside of Kankakee. The Collins poll only asked about five — all from Chicago — who I already consider the frontrunners, measured either by money raised, key endorsements and whether they hold elected office.

This primary is wide open — 42% of voters are undecided.

Strategists I interviewed working on 1st district campaigns all agreed a nominee could be determined with as little as 20% to 30% of the vote.

Respondents were told that Pat Dowell was an alderman, Collins was a state senator and Jonathan Jackson was “the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson.”

Then asked “if you had to decide today and could not be undecided,” 19% said they would lean toward Jackson; 14% for Dowell and Collins; 5% for Karin Norrington Reaves, the CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership; and 3% for Jonathan Swain, a Hyde Park businessman.

Rev. Jackson surfaces as a key factor.

When asked about a “Jonathan  Jackson,” 43% said they “never heard” about him. After identifying him as the son of the famous reverend, then only 12% said they “never heard” about him.

District demographics: Collins’ respondents were 61% female and identified as 73% Black and 22% white, with other racial groups below 2%.

Advertising: In the 1st district, there is very little advertising so far – no paid television, cable or digital or direct mail.

According to FEC reports, as of March 31, Swain had the most cash on hand. Becky Carroll, a Swain campaign adviser said, “Without the resources to get (their) message out, even if you start with good name ID, other candidates with funding to communicate their poll tested messaging will have the advantage, especially in a wildly crowded race with no one person breaking away from other top tier candidates.”

Pastor Chris Butler, the only anti-abortion candidate in the primary, said in a statement the survey should have included more candidates and Collins polled only “her favorite establishment candidates in the race.”

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