2022 IL General Election Turnout Analysis

Election results are driven by two factors: affinity and propensity.

Affinity is how people feel about races and issues. In the case of a specific campaign, affinity is whether a voter prefers Candidate A or Candidate B. Part 1 of our 2022 Illinois General Election analysis focused on affinity, learning how people voted in the latest election and why.

Until now, though, we hadn’t been able to analyze the other half of the equation: propensity. Propensity is how likely a person is to take action on something. In the example above, propensity is whether that voter actually cast their ballot for their preferred candidate.

Many have already shared their opinions on how propensity, called “turnout” when referencing elections, impacted the 2022 Illinois General Election. But, until recently, we didn’t have any data to prove or disprove those theories. Did female turnout, especially young female turnout, drive this election as Illinois’ Speaker of the House claimed? Did Trump’s efforts to discredit the election process lead to some Republicans staying home, as many of us feared it might? Was minority turnout down significantly, as indicated by the weak results many pointed to in minority-majority Chicago wards?

Getting turnout data proved harder than expected. You can’t get the data statewide for still several more months, so we had to go to individual county & city election authorities, some of whom move more quickly than others, and a few who have head-scratchingly suspect data (we won’t name names). We then had to supplement the voter data with demographic information for each voter. Our poor data team needs a vacation after this project.

We’ve been able to successfully pull enough data for four separate buckets to allow us all to review how likely it was the average voter in various demographics voted in Chicago, suburban Cook County, the collar counties, and the rest of the state.

Once again, the results were fascinating. Click here to review the data yourself.Tell us what you see by connecting with us on social media and sharing your thoughts. Below is what we saw in the data.

Overall Turnout Was Down

The Illinois State Board of Elections recently announced statewide voter turnout was 51%, a 5% drop from four years ago (the last “like” election) and among the lowest turnout in the past 40 years. We saw that average in our data, too.

Despite all the energy and passion behind certain issues like abortion, crime, and the economy, voters were not motivated to go to the polls. Looking to Part 1 and Part 2 of our analysis gives some reasons why.

This -5% mark is our baseline. Meaning, if a specific demographic’s turnout drops 2% from 2018 to 2022, even though it’s a negative number, that’s actually better than average, while any drop more than 5% is worse than average.

Squint Just Right and You’ll See the Red Wave

Turnout among Republicans mostly held strong, especially outside Cook County. In the collar counties, Republican turnout was only down 4%, and in the rest of the state it was down just 2%. It did drop by 10% in suburban Cook County and 13% in Chicago.

This was nothing compared to the drop among Democrats. In their vote-rich base of Chicago, Democrats lost an astounding 22% of their voters in this past election. In suburban Cook County, they lost another 16%. It wasn’t nearly as bad in the other 101 counties, but still bad, as they lost 9% in the collars and 8% in the rest of the state. As a result, the vote share Democrats controlled in Illinois dropped 5%, a massive swing.

This election had all the makings of a red wave not because Republicans turned out, but because Democrats stayed home. In fact, some of us believe there actually was a red wave—it just crashed into a blue wave created by factors other than Dem turnout. More on that in Part 4, the final piece of our analysis.

Independents Were a Big Factor

Independent voters always play an outsized role in every election, despite being a very small portion of the overall vote. As “swing voters,” they determine any election in which one party is not able to achieve more than 50% of the vote with just their own voters. In 2022, this was even more the case.

While turnout dropped among Republicans and Democrats, turnout actually increased among independents. 6% more independents in Chicago voted in 2022 than in 2018. In the collar counties, the increase was 3%, and the increase was 5% in the rest of Illinois. Only suburban Cook County saw a slight decrease in independent voter participation, rounded to 0% (but actually -.48%), which is still better than the -5% turnout statewide.

As a result, the independent vote share increased nearly 3% from 2018 to 2022. To someone outside politics that may seem like a small number, but in campaigns that tiny number has a massive impact. This is a 30% increase in the number of persuadable swing voters you typically see in an election.

This crystalizes the problem for Republicans in 2022. Reaching the independent universe is difficult and expensive, because so few of these voters participate, so you end up having to contact huge numbers of people to find the handful who are actually going to vote. This takes significant resources—say, the funding to go up on broadcast & cable TV and dramatically increase your mail and digital advertising universes. Democrats had that funding in 2022—Republicans didn’t.

Female Turnout Did Not Rule This Election

Contrary to popular belief, and frankly shocking to me based on what I expected to see, females did not “show up in droves” to vote in this election. In fact, voter turnout among females dropped on average about 2% more than turnout among males.

In Chicago, female turnout was down 16% compared to male turnout being down 13%. In suburban Cook County, female turnout dropped 11% compared to 9% for males. The drop for females was just 5% in the collars but it was still less at 3% for males. And in the rest of Illinois, turnout dropped for females by 3% while it only dropped 1% for males. As a result, the vote share for females dropped in 2022 compared to 2018 by about 1%.

It’s noteworthy that female turnout still dominated male turnout, despite dropping in this election. Females made up 5% more of the vote share outside Cook County and 10% more in Cook County. So while the data disproves the idea that female turnout skyrocketed in this election, the data does not say that vote bloc is less important than it has always been, because more females vote than males.

There Was No Surge in Young Voter Turnout

While the drop in young voter turnout wasn’t as significant as it was for middle-aged voters, it was still more than the average, proving there was not a surge in young voter turnout in this election. Turnout among voters under 30 dropped 11% in Chicago, 8% in suburban Cook County, 3% in the collars, and slightly more than 0% (.1%) in the rest of the state.

Turnout dropped more among middle-aged voters, which is to be expected considering the overall turnout drop.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, since seniors are always a strong voting bloc, 65+ is the only age demographic that saw less than the average drop in voter turnout. It was down 7% in Cook County, down just 1% in the collar counties, and up 2% in the rest of Illinois. Seniors were 4% more of the electorate in 2022 than they were in 2018.

Overall, not much to analyze here, other than the fact that young voters aren’t what drove 2022’s election results.

Black and Hispanic Voters Showed Historically Low Turnout

Many already knew turnout among Black and Hispanic voters had to be down looking at the data from Election Day in wards and districts where voters in each demographic are the majority. Now that we have the turnout data, our assumptions have been proven accurate.

Black turnout was historically low in the 2022 General Election. Just 40% of Black voters in Cook County voted, a 19% drop in Chicago and a 15% drop in suburban Cook County. Just 37% of Black voters in the collar counties turned out, a 10% drop. And just 36% of Black voters in the rest of the state voted, a 6% drop compared to 2018. In total, Blacks comprised 2.5% less of the electorate in 2022 than they did in 2018.

Hispanic turnout, typically lower than Black turnout, saw drops nearly as large. Only 33% of Hispanics in Chicago voted, a 17% drop. That number was just 27% in suburban Cook County, a 13% drop from 2018. 30% of Hispanics in the collars voted, which is 7% lower than in 2018. And 35% of Hispanics in the rest of Illinois voted, which is 6% lower. In total, Hispanics made up 2% less of the electorate this election.

One election is not a trend. But these turnout statistics have to be very concerning for Democrats, since in Illinois they dominate both demographics.

Voter Interest Was Significantly Higher Outside Cook County

Voter turnout in Chicago was among the lowest in recent history. Only 46% of voters turned out in Chicago, a 14% drop from 2018. The drop was nearly as precipitous in suburban Cook County, where just 45% of voters cast their ballots, an 11% drop.

Meanwhile, turnout held relatively strong in the rest of the state. In the collar counties, turnout only dropped 4%, from 56% to 52%. Turnout barely dropped in the rest of Illinois, dropping 2%, from 56% to 54%.

This is yet another turnout result that favors Republicans. More voters outside Cook County and fewer voters inside Cook County should mean improved Republican electoral results. “Should,” being the operative word, since we all know November was not kind to the GOP in Illinois.