Report: Illinois ranks 19th in country for political engagement

Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 6:29 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Voter turnout for midterm elections is usually much lower than during a presidential election despite important local and statewide races on the ballot. A new WalletHub report ranks Illinois as 19th in the country for political engagement during 2022.

Experts say you can expect to see the highest voter turnout in states with highly contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. You may hear about some of those races happening in Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia.

Even though people are seeing plenty of political ads and campaign signs across Illinois, the state received a 50.77% score for political engagement this year. WalletHub analyzed the percentage of registered voters in the 2018 midterm election and education about civic engagement in all 50 states. The financial outlook organization completed this ranking with data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets, Ballotpedia, AmeriCorps, National Conference of State Legislatures, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Indeed.

Illinois ranked 12th in the education category, but researchers also put the state in 46th place for tax fairness. UIC political professor Dr. Dick Simpson said Wednesday that people become more engaged when they know their vote matters.

“Part of it is circumstances. Part of it is the Republicans have chosen many bad candidates when they didn’t have to,” Simpson said. “When you don’t have closely contested elections, the voters say to themselves why should I show up and vote on election day.”

Simpson said constant negative television ads can also turn many people off and lead to less voting. However, he said that previous elections have proven that candidates can still win with compelling attack ads. Simpson also predicted that Illinois will see less than a 50% turnout for the November election.

Many people believe the phrase “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Simpson and other political experts who helped with the WalletHub report say people like to participate in elections when there is a clear difference between candidates. Voters also care more when polling is showing a close race up to an election day.

Simpson said there are only a few Congressional and state legislative races that will go down to the wire. He also believes that Gov. JB Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth will clearly win re-election against MAGA Republicans Sen. Darren Bailey and Kathy Salvi. Many Illinois political observers thought the gubernatorial race would be a tighter battle. Simpson said he’s not sure why Bailey hasn’t been a stronger candidate.

“He’s had some legislative experience. He does come from a farm background and has some issues that are important,” Simpson said. “But, early on he didn’t have money because the money he had was spent on winning the Republican primary. He accepted the Trump endorsement and that tends to taint candidates. The people who are Trump supporters will back him, but it’s a big problem for the moderates and the independents in the Chicago suburbs.”

Simpson said most Chicago voters were never going to support Bailey. Yet, Simpson said Bailey’s frequent description of Chicago as a “hell hole” turned away many prospective Republican voters there.

He also stressed that people should start voting when they are in high school and college.

“If they don’t vote early when they’re just becoming full adults with citizenship rights, then it’s going to be much later and many fewer of them will be real participants,” Simpson said. “And we’ll have this low level of participation which will not sustain our democracy.”

Illinois lawmakers passed a plan in 2015 to require civic engagement courses in 8th grade and high school. Students can no longer graduate high school without passing the civic engagement course. Most higher education institutions have also expanded civic engagement programs to improve student voter participation. Simpson said those are significant steps for political engagement, but he would like to see more done in Illinois.

Simpson thinks nationwide campaigns for abortion rights and gun control could lead to more engagement from Democrats in November. Although, he notes that voters from both political parties will be very energized.

“It will also have a big effect on the swing vote independents who are automatically extreme Democrats or extreme Republicans,” Simpson said. “It’s just that there are so many forces against high-level participation this election that it’s going to be hard for even these very powerful and motivating issues to be enough.”

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