In the 2019 Chicago election, seven out of the eight incumbents who lost their seat were replaced with younger candidates unaffiliated with Chicago’s Democratic political machine. This makes clear that voters preferred youthful passion over entrenched candidates. Furthermore, all but one of the five open seats were won by a candidate younger than their predecessor. The influx of young council members illustrates a broader, national trend of young people becoming more politically active and bringing a more inclusive legislative agenda.
When wards are grouped by type of winner (incumbent, challenger, open seat, or uncontested), we find that having an open seat inspires the greatest political participation–for both the general election and the runoff election. If ward 22 (open seat and no runoff) is assumed to be an outlier in the election, it becomes abundantly clear that open aldermanic seats have a much higher turnout rate for both the general and runoff elections—with 3.76 percent greater turnout in the general election than overall average and a whopping 5.45 percent higher turnout in the runoff election.
On the flipside, wards where the incumbent alderman was uncontested have the lowest turnout rate across the board. The five wards where the incumbent alderman had no challenger participation was 3.07 percent lower than the city’s average turnout for the general election and 2.6 percent lower in the April runoff election.
In the February general election, wards where the incumbent won had a slightly higher rate of political participation than where an incumbent was unseated. Conversely, in the April runoff election, wards where a challenger was successful in unseating an incumbent saw marginally higher turnout than where an incumbent kept their seat. While these statistical differences are slight, it may be that challengers who end up unseating an incumbent are better at keeping constituents from becoming politically fatigued.
What’s most interesting is that in wards where there was a contested election, there was, on average, a 9.04 percent greater turnout rate in the runoff election than in wards where there was no aldermanic runoff. Between wards where the incumbent alderman either won or was unseated (ignoring open seats and uncontested elections), there was an average of a 3.86 percent greater turnout rate in wards where there was a runoff as opposed to wards where there was no runoff—a statistically significant difference at p<.10. One might suggest to future mayoral candidates who make it to the runoff election that they should target wards where there’s an aldermanic runoff race—as people in those wards are already more likely to go to the polls.
As we can see from the map, there’s no clear geographic pattern as to where aldermen lost their seat or where seats had no incumbents.
Winner types of aldermanic seats in the City of Chicago for the 2019 municipal elections.
Blue: Incumbent was reelected.
Pink: Incumbent was unseated by a challenger.
Green: Open seat (no incumbent running for reelection).
Grey: Incumbent was uncontested in reelection.
Click on the image above to be redirected to the interactive map.
Comparison of turnout in the 2019 Chicago municipal election. The map on the right is the turnout for the runoff election that occurred on April 2. The map on the left is the turnout for the general election that occurred on February 26.
Click on the image to be redirected to the interactive map.
Katherine ConteKatherine Conte
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