Illinois Primary Voters Could Have More Influence Than They Think

Mar 10, 2020

When Illinois voters cast their primary ballot on March 17, their first — and even second — choice for president may no longer be in the race.

But with no clear front runner between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, Illinois may have more influence on who wins the Democratic nomination than voters originally thought.

WCBU’s Dana Vollmer talked to Bradley University political science professor Megan Remmel about Illinois' position in the presidential primary.

Dana Vollmer: Where are we in the primary process now?

Megan Remmel
Credit Bradley University

Megan Remmel: We are about a third to maybe 40% of the states of the way through. We have had a fair number of contests at this point, a fair number of delegates, which is actually how you decide who the nominee is going to be: you're electing delegates who are then eventually going to go to the national conventions, who are then going to cast a vote.

So we're a fair way through the process, but there's still a majority of delegates to be determined. A majority of states still haven't had their competitions yet to decide between these candidates, so we're getting there. And obviously candidates have dropped out ... So it is starting to narrow the field. But now you're going to have this head-to-head competition between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders

DV: For the candidates that dropped out, what happens to the delegates that they picked up?

MR: It's state-by-state, so each state's party is going to have different rules to decide what happens to those delegates. In some of the states, the delegates are still bound to the person that they were elected for. So you may get somebody who still has to represent Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren or something like that in the convention this summer. In some states, they get released after a candidate drops out … and can vote for a different candidate.

DV: How does Illinois fit into all of this?

MR: Illinois is actually going to matter. I think people were concerned that because Illinois is a little later in the process — two weeks after Super Tuesday — that Illinois was not going to have a huge impact over who the nominee was going to be. Because by the time we got to Illinois, enough delegates were going to have been decided, and enough candidates were going to have dropped out that we were going to have kind of a predetermined outcome.

Other states have been in that position before. California used to have their primary in June and by the time it got to June, all the candidates had dropped out but one and so voters didn't have any options -- they had who the nominee was going to be. That’s why California moved up and competed on Super Tuesday, so that they could have more of an impact in the nominating contest.

I think people were worried that Illinois was going to be in kind of California's old shoes, coming later in the process. But things are still somewhat up in the air about who the nominee is going to be between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Illinois’ got a substantial heft of delegates to kind of dole out to the remaining candidates. So votes in Illinois are still going to be much more influential than I think people were worried that they would be.

DV: How does a candidate win over Illinois voters?

MR: Illinois is actually a pretty solid representation of the demographics of the United States, in terms of the geographical distribution between rural and suburban and urban and the racial and socioeconomic demographics.

I think you're going to get some of the similar split in Illinois that we've seen nationwide, across kind of your typical sort of Bernie Sanders supporters and your Joe Biden supporters. I wouldn't be surprised if in the counties around Chicago, and even maybe Champaign-Urbana, where you might get a kind of concentration of Bernie Sanders supporters, and then in sort of more rural parts of the state, you might get some Joe Biden supporters.

I think there are going to be some people who are going to continue to vote for Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg or Elizabeth Warren, because they're still on the ballot. The ballots have already been printed and at this point, they are making kind of a symbolic statement that this is the candidate they supported and they're not changing their vote, even if those candidates are no longer in the race.

DV: Do you think people are more likely in this election to vote for the candidate they want rather than who they think can win?

MR: I honestly don't know. I think voters are really torn, especially on the more democratic or liberal side, are really torn — and you're seeing this again with Sanders and Biden — between so-called electability [and idealism]. Political science actually has no way of measuring electability. It's one of those things where you're like, “I know it when I see it,” but it's really hard to actually measure an electable candidate.

Bernie Sanders, I think represents the more idealistic: “This is what we want, in theory.” The Biden side is sort of satisficing, you're kind of making do but you think he's got a better chance of beating Donald Trump. Or you think that if Bernie Sanders is on the ticket, that's going to affect the ability of the Democrats to keep the House or to convert the Senate to Democratic control, so you vote for Biden instead.

Depending on what happens on March 10, maybe Joe Biden really has solidified this lead that he's garnered after Super Tuesday and people start to go, “Well, he's gonna win the nomination. So I'm gonna vote for Elizabeth Warren because she's who I wanted originally and I don't want to vote for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden's going to win no matter what.” They make the calculation, their vote “doesn't matter,” which is never true. But I think that's some of the mental gymnastics people are going to do.

DV: The presidential race is obviously the most prominent contest this election cycle, but is there anything else voters should be keeping an eye on?

MR: The one thing to keep an eye on is the state legislative races, particularly because the people who get elected this year are going to be the people who are doing the redistricting next year. A census is soon to be happening … and that information is going to go to the state legislatures next year. And so whoever ends up being in the state legislature next year … those are the group of people who are going to be doing the redistricting. That redistricting is going to have an impact for the next 10 years.

From that perspective, who wins the state legislature — who has a majority — has the ability to kind of dictate who's doing the drawing of these districts. That's going to be particularly important because Illinois is almost certainly going to lose a seat in Congress. At least one, hopefully not two, but there's a possibility that we could lose a substantial amount of our representation. When you've got fewer districts, that's going to lead to a lot more creative drawing [of legislative maps]. If you are concerned about how that's going to affect the congressional districts, your member of Congress ... you're going to want to pay attention to state legislative races.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in the Peoria area. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.