IL-05: Impressions from the Fifth, Pt 1
by bored now, Sun Feb 01, 2009 at 05:53:31 AM EST
On Saturday, January 31, I knocked on 50 doors of people who voted in the Democratic primary in February of 2008. I was trying to get a stronger sense of whether I was right about there being a more intense interest in this race on the blogs outside the district than there was among voters in the district. Of those 50 doors, most of these single-family homes had two primary voters in them. I weeded out most of the doors with only one primary voter, although I did leave in a handful or so of single voters who lived in close proximity to doors with multiple voters. I like clusters.
I talked to 12 adults, two of which were not on my list. Of the ten, more than a few expressed the thought that they didn't even know that there was an election coming up. One person thought he might have signed a petition recently and several thought I was looking for signatures for a petition.
"Do you know who the candidates are?" This was (intentionally) an open-ended question. There will be few casual voters in this race, so if people can't name the candidate off the top of their head, they aren't likely to vote. Of the ten, five people admitted they had no clue. Among the other five, three people knew that Mike Quigley was running (for something), two people knew that John Fritchey was running (one person guessed because there was a large Fritchey sign on the road she takes to work), and one person could name Sara Feigenholtz as a candidate. Another person knew that there was a woman in the race, but couldn't think of her name.
"Do you intend to vote on March 3rd?" One person said no, and one person said yes. Everyone else gave a variation of maybe. The question arose as to whether there would be early voting at a location convenient to voters. There will not be early voting in every ward (as there was in the last election). In Chicago, early voting will be confined to four locations:
WEST - Wright College, Science Building, 4300 N. Narragansett Ave.
CENTRAL - North Park Village Administration Building, 5801 N. Pulaski Road
EAST - Lincoln Park Library, 1150 W. Fullerton Ave.
DOWNTOWN - Chicago Election Board, 69 W. Washington St., Lower Level
EARLY VOTING HOURS:
-- Monday thru Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
-- Sundays: ONLY at Chicago Election Board, 9 a.m. to noon
For the two townships in the suburbs, there are three locations [PDF]:
Elmwood Park Village Hall
11 Conti Parkway
Elmwood Park, IL 60707
Melrose Park Village Hall
1000 N. 25th Ave.
Melrose Park, IL 60160
Hours in the suburbs:
- Monday-Friday: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
- Saturday: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Clerk's Downtown Office
69 West Washington St., 5th floor
Chicago, IL 60602
- same hours as above Monday-Saturday
- Sunday: 9:00 a.m. - noon
State law requires early voters to provide a photo ID. "Valid forms of ID include: a current driver's license, state-issued ID card or another government-issued ID with a photograph."
None of the voters I talked to had made a decision who to vote for (and, really, whether they would actually vote) in the race. In that sense, this race is wide open. Right now, this is a low-information, low-interest election. There were no excited reactions about one candidate or indications that people felt they had to vote. All of which points to a low turnout, making all the more important the campaigns' GOTV operations. Identifying and mobilizing supporters is key to winning this race. Period.
"If you do vote, what issues will you be using to make your decision?" The economy was the overwhelming issue of interest. While no one I talked to said they had lost their job in the last few months, one person was scared that her unemployment benefits were going to run out before she found a job. Several people mentioned the shuttering of local businesses in the area. Voters are scared. "No one is looking out for us," I wrote down in my notes.
I talked to six women (out of the ten). None of them offered a desire to see a woman win this race. No one mentioned health care as an issue, although one younger man expressed concern that Social Security was threatened and he didn't think the stock market was "a reliable source for retirement income." No one expressed any interest in a foreign policy issue/concern. No one mentioned Obama! No one mentioned Rahm. No one mentioned Mayor Daley.
You could say, it's the economy, stupid. You could say that. But I would return to what always works: It's the message, stupid. Which campaign will have a compelling message so frequently communicated that it grabs voter's attention and makes them want to vote? We don't know. The reason why I like these open ended questions is that its the best way to find the voter's voice, to discover phrasing that is already part of the voter's vocabulary. Although the sample is way too small, there was nothing that jumped out at me as particularly memorable, either. To say that voters are scared might be overly dramatic, but they are certainly concerned. More to the point, what are you (the candidate) going to do about it?
My impression, having listened to a dozen voters yesterday, is that biography isn't going to win this election. If these voters are indicators, it doesn't matter what you've done (there were hints that being a politician isn't necessarily a good thing -- one of the legacies of the Blagojevich scandal). What matters, what people seem to be interested in, is what are you going to do for them.
One woman took the question seriously: "Your job," she advised, "is to save OUR jobs." There's a reason that Studs Turkel could make a living quoting regular people in Chicago.
Another women told me: "I wished they'd spend more time in the neighborhoods, so they had an idea how people lived. I don't think they understand living in their big houses away from it all."
Another one: "Stop fussing around. We need help now, not next year." She didn't expand on this further.
And: "I want someone who will go and knock some heads together. I've had enough." There may have been more to the last sentence, but I didn't write it down.
The voters I talked to in Wards 38, 45 and 39 (if you look at a ward map, you can pretty much see where I was) were decidedly NON-ideological. Not that it would matter. The economic message -- concern about jobs, making the economy stronger, helping those who have lost their jobs -- is what has always brought Democrats together. In that sense, it doesn't matter if the district is more conservative than people perceive or more progressive that CQ admits. Again, it's a small sample, but it was what I could collect in the time I was willing to give it.
I seem to recall a message of some upstart candidate in the early 90s: Putting People First. Most people don't remember that message, but it seems it would resonate today on the northside of Chicago. They seem to be feeling a little abandoned by the politicians. The candidate who wins this race may need to be the anti-Rahm to distinquish him or herself from the rest of the field.
For the record, I didn't see a single yardsign out in my travels across the 5th yesterday. I did see one corner that had Fritchey signs out, but they were the 4x8 signs, and one Wheelan sign posted in a local business' storefront. The pictures included in this post are posted in the order they were taken.