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Map courtesy of Illinois Secretary of State's office.

Townships with high early voting turnout by young voters are shown in yellow. Low turnout areas are in blue. Beige indicates Chicago boundaries.

Cook County early voting turnout reveals social, economic disparities

by Jen Thomas
Nov 25, 2008


Courtesy of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

Click on image to see full-size chart. Source: 2008 National Election Pool, National Exit Poll

Young Hispanic voters may have had a strong hand in securing victory for President-elect Barack Obama in crucial swing states, but in Cook County, townships with high Hispanic populations failed to turn out for early voting.

Townships with large Latino populations reported low youth turnout numbers, with only 3.8 percent of registered 18-to-24-year-olds in Cicero Township voting early and in Leyden Township, only 3.9 percent, far below the countywide average of 8.11 percent.
Along with Berwyn Township’s 4.7 percent, these totals constitute three of the four lowest turnout rates in the county, according to numbers from the Cook County clerk’s office.

“Because Illinois is not a battleground state, there wasn’t a lot of concerted effort to mobilize the Latino population, especially in Cook County,” said Eric Oliver, a political science professor at the University of Chicago.

As the county awaits official Election Day results, early voting totals provide a glimpse into what’s to come.

In the 25-to-34-year-old demographic, Berwyn Township had the lowest turnout, at 4.2 percent and Leyden, the second lowest at 4.5 percent. The average across the county for that age group was 8.9 percent.

Hispanics voted for Obama over Republican contender John McCain by a margin of more than two-to-one, according to a report released by the Pew Hispanic Center. Using data from exit polls in nine states, including Illinois, the report said “Latino youth just as all youth nationwide, supported Obama over McCain by a lopsided margin – 76 percent versus 19 percent.”

Andrew McFarland, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said “a culture of political avoidance” among Mexican-Americans accustomed to Mexican political corruption may have contributed to the low turnout.

“Younger Mexican-Americans, not the ones one meets in college, are likely still influenced by the culture of political avoidance and so one would have lower numbers in Cicero and Berwyn,” McFarland said in an email. “However, younger Mexican-Americans are getting out of this culture of avoidance and will soon be voting as much as other Americans.”

Cook County’s high turnout townships – Rich, Oak Park, Northfield and New Trier – followed national voting trends that tie high voter turnout to education and income.

“Scores of research reports show that the most important correlation with voting is education level. Not to disparage some people, but New Trier is practically a synonym for very educated. So is Oak Park,” McFarland said.

Northfield and Oak Park Townships both boasted an 11.8 percent turnout in early voting for the 18-to-24-year-old demographic, and New Trier had 10.6 percent turnout in the category, well above the 8.9 percent county average.
In New Trier, 36 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree, and 39 percent has a graduate or professional degree, according to 2000 U.S. Census data. In Oak Park, 31 percent have bachelor’s and 30.9 have graduate or professional degrees.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University reported Monday that educated youth were most likely to vote. While only 57 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds have attended college, 70 percent of young voters had gone to college.

Rich Township reported exceptional numbers for both 18-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds at 15 percent and 19.9 percent respectively. Neither the Cook County clerk’s office nor the Rich Township deputy clerk could pinpoint a reason for the high turnout.

“Rich and Oak Park also have high black population proportions and in this election, blacks voted early and in great numbers everywhere. … It’s obvious that Rich did so well because of the black vote and the Latino areas turned out poorly as usual,” said political consultant Don Rose in an email.

This election, 19 percent of young voters self-identified as black, compared with 13 percent of all voters, according to the Tufts report. The final pre-election Gallup Poll also said blacks came out in record numbers, “constituting 13 percent of Gallup’s final likely voter pool, up from 8 percent in 2004.”

“[Rich Township] is an area in which there are many blacks with above average incomes, and some college education live. So even though young, I would expect this group to be exceptionally motivated to turn out for Obama,” McFarland said.

“This election will yield up more information than we’ve had before. At this point, nobody knows much about early voting,” said Dennis Judd, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.