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FairVote Report Highlights 'Dubious' Elections in Illinois

Released March 22, 2012

Contact: Rob Richie, FairVote Executive Director
rr[at][fairvote.org. 301-270-4616

FairVote Report Highlights ‘Dubious’ Elections in U.S. House Elections in Illinois
Analysis of Congressional Elections in Illinois Shows Uncompetitive and Unrepresentative General Elections

Washington, DC – 3/22/2012 – A new report by FairVote on the state of U.S. House elections highlights the increasing importance of this week's primaries that took place on Tuesday in Illinois. The report finds that general elections in Illinois are largely uncompetitive and unrepresentative.  Although some incumbents faced stronger challenges than usual and one lost to another incumbent due to redistricting, nearly all winners now will coast to another term.

FairVote’s report, Dubious Democracy, provides a comprehensive assessment of the level of competition and accuracy of representation in U.S. House elections in all 50 states from 1982 to 2010. Findings show that general elections in Illinois are not competitive and fail to accurately represent the state’s voters. You can read the section on Illinois here and the full report here.

Here are key facts about Illinois’s U.S. House elections from our report:

  • Incumbents have tougher year than usual: In 2010, four incumbents lost their bids for re-election, which is much higher than in any year of our study. Before the last congressional election, only one incumbent had lost in the previous six U.S. House elections – that’s one incumbent defeat out of 105 House races from 1998 to 2008.
  • Republicans win most seats, but lose statewide vote: Republican candidates received 11.4% more seats than they cast votes and Democratic candidates won 8.7% less seats than they obtained votes. In fact, the Democrats won the statewide vote by 50.8% to 46.5% (with the rest for third parties), but Republicans won 58% of seats. Last time similar discrepancy appeared after redistricting in 2002 election.
  • High average victory margins continue: While three elections were competitive, most of the rest were highly uncompetitive: two candidates won by over 10%, six won by landslide margins of at least 20%, and eight won by at least 40%. Illinois ranks 36th out of 50 states in margin of victory with an average margin of 35%.
  • Nearly three in four eligible voters didn’t elect anyone: Illinois did not fare well in fully representing its voters. Only 27% of eligible voters voted for a winning candidate and secured representation in the U.S. House, and about 35% of votes were cast for losing candidates. 
  • Men dominate delegation: In 2010 only two women were elected, which is the lowest level since 2002. The highest number, four women, were elected in 2008, which means that the percentage of female’s representation decreased of 50% in 2010. 

Some highlighted national facts concerning the 2010 elections:

  • Sky-high incumbency rate despite wave election. Over 86% of incumbents running kept their seats, which is less than the 98% seat retention rate from 1998-2004 but still very high given public dissatisfaction with Congress.
  • Landslide wins continue. The average margin of victory in 2010 was a whopping 33%, and 64.4% of U.S. House races were won by landslide margins of at least 20%. Only 81 races (18.6%) were won by competitive margins of less than 10 percentage points. 
  • Apathy and lack of representation. Just one out of every four eligible voters cast a ballot for a winning candidate. In other words, nearly three in four eligible voters did not vote in 2010 for anyone serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Dubious Democracy: 1982-2010 comprehensively catalogues just how noncompetitive House elections have been in states around the nation nearly three decades. FairVote Executive Director Rob Richie said, “Although political campaigns and cable news constantly portray American elections as a horse race, the reality is that the majority of the time we have uncompetitive elections where the incumbent wins without having to make their case to voters.”

There are several options to confront meaningless, uncompetitive congressional elections in Illinois and throughout the rest of the country. FairVote proposes an alternative – a fair voting system in multi-seat districts – to facilitate fair representation and foster competitive elections. You can find the fair voting plan for Illinois here, and you can see fair voting plans for other states here