Reality Check: Obama Is Not Going to Lose Illinois

Illinois was last competitive for the presidency in 1988, when George H.W. Bush carried the state on his way to a landslide victory against Mike Dukakis. Since then, Democrats have easily carried the state, with usually a 10-point or better margin. Barack Obama, the junior Senator from the state, carried the Land of Lincoln by 25 points in 2008. Today, though, the blogosphere is abuzz about a new poll showing Obama vulnerable in Illinois. Everyone should calm down.

The Daily Caller reported this morning:

A poll conducted by Illinois-based pollster and political strategist Michael McKeon found Obama leading Republican Mitt Romney by 49 percent to 37 percent in Cook County, the home of Chicago. That puts him ahead by a far thinner margin than expected in a county he should be winning handsomely...

In the city of Chicago itself, he retains a 60-29 lead over Romney. But the Republican challenger leads 45-38 in the surrounding areas. Across the county as a whole, Romney leads 43-31 among independent voters, a crucial voting bloc. Romney also holds a 44-38 lead among male voters, and a 53-40 lead among white voters.

The DC does not provide any more details on the poll, so it is impossible to fully vet these results. I've worked with McKeon in the past and found him to be a good pollster, but that was over 15 years ago. And, even a good pollster with an accurate sample will occasionally produce polls with screwy results. When they say a poll has a 90% confidence rating, they mean that one out of ten times a poll weighted exactly the same way would produce very different results. 

One item that urges reading this poll with caution is the match-up in the city of Chicago. I would be very surprised if Obama comes out of the city with only 60% of the vote. In 2008, Obama took over 80% of the vote in the city. In Cook County overall, he took 76% of the vote. While Obama's numbers this year won't come close to the '08 numbers, it's hard to believe that his support has dropped that much. 

Earlier this month, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released her own campaign poll of the county. Her poll found that Obama had a 67% approval rating in the county, with only a 20% disapproval. 72% of Cook County voters approved of the job the President was doing, while only 27% disapproved. 

At the end of July, Crain's Chicago released a poll showing Obama with a 20-point lead statewide, 51-31. Now, the poll was of voting-age Illinois residents, rather than actual registered voters, so there is a natural Democrat bias in the poll. But, Obama's lead is far more than any sampling bias. 

Now, I am very optimistic about the GOP ticket in November. But even I can't quite take this poll seriously. Romney will definitely run better than McCain in Illinois. He will very likely win the downstate vote and may even be competitive in the suburbs. But the only way he wins the state is if he is on track for a landslide victory against Obama. 

Until we see more details about today's poll or other polling confirming the trend, it would be wise to treat it as an outlier. 

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