Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Recaps Voting and Campaign Spending in 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

I had the great privilege of speaking with Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) just before Thanksgiving. We discussed her career path that led to ICPR, the work of the organization more broadly, an Illinois centric-post mortem of the 2016 Election, and how ICPR is poised to support the work of Illinois civics teachers.

Sarah’s involvement in politics began at the local level on the north side of Chicago, but she has since pivoted to statewide work at ICPR. Hear more about her career trajectory and the organization’s work in this opening segment of our interview.



ICPR manages the Illinois Voter Project, which offers breakdowns of voter participation by county and age cohort. It also demonstrates changes in party preference at the presidential level in Illinois from 2008 to 2016. Most striking is the transformation of downstate countries from competitive to strongly Republican. Chicago retains its strong Democratic orientation, while the collar counties continue to tilt towards the Democrats, at least in presidential election years.

Sarah offers further context on this project and analysis of the 2016 Election results in this second segment.



ICPR has long played a prominent role in deliberations concerning the state’s campaign finance laws. They maintain the Illinois Sunshine database, which provides access to information on money raised and spent by individual candidates and campaign committees.

The 2016 Election tested Illinois’ campaign finance laws like never before, and Sarah discussed potential policy changes moving forward in this third and final segment. She concludes with ways in which teachers can use the aforementioned and additional resources offered by ICPR in their classrooms.

Springfield Stalemate Prevails in Aftermath of 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Last week, we broke down the 2016 Election results at the presidential level, also making reference to continued Republican control of the US House and Senate. Today, we’ll do the same for Illinois.

From the top, Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) handily defeated incumbent Mark Kirk (R-Kenilworth) for US Senate. This was one of only two pick-ups for Democrats nationally as the GOP retains a 52-48 seat majority. While Chuck Schumer replaces Harry Reid as Minority Leader, Illinois senior Senator Dick Durbin remains Minority Whip, removing him from a possible gubernatorial bid in 2018.

On the House side, only two of Illinois eighteen seats changed hands, with Raja Kristnamoorthi holding Duckworth’s northwest suburban seat (IL-8) for the Democrats, and Brad Schneider besting incumbent Republican Bob Dold in the adjacent 10th congressional district that has swung back and forth between these two candidates four consecutive elections. Schneider’s win was one of only six-to-seven net gains for Democrats, leaving Republicans with a comfortable majority heading into 2017.

The proxy war for Illinois Comptroller was won by Susana Mendoza, currently serving as Chicago City Clerk, but previously a member of Speaker Michael Madigan’s House Democratic Caucus. This was seen as a defeat for Governor Bruce Rauner, as he hand-picked Leslie Munger and invested substantially in her campaign. Mendoza will be seated in early January, and the manner by which she pays the state’s delinquent bills will be a key subplot to the ongoing Springfield Stalemate.

Rauner’s Republicans did chip away at the Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate. The GOP had a net gain of four seats in the House, leaving Democrats with a 67-51 majority, but short of the 60% necessary to override gubernatorial vetoes. Republicans also picked up two seats in the Senate, but Democrats retain a 37-22 supermajority in the upper house.

The General Assembly convened last week for the fall veto session and will be back again after Thanksgiving. Recall that the six-month budget passed in overtime this summer expires with the 2016 calendar, and its resolution is required for Rauner to sign a short-term pension fix for Chicago Public Schools. Should they fail, the district will be out $215 billion in its current 2016-2017 budget.

Governor Rauner continues to push for passage of elements of his Turnaround Agenda, recently returning to worker’s compensation reform for one. In search of a grand bargain, he’s nominally offered to endorse a tax increase as a means to passing a budget in exchange for these non-budgetary reforms. Also looming large is Illinois’ terribly underfunded public pension system, now estimated to be $129 billion in arrears.

Both Rauner and Madigan are clearly playing the long game, eying the next election (now 2018) as the juncture when their party will ultimately prevail. However, it’s perfectly possible that the status quo will reign once more, and the state’s unpaid bills accumulate as we suffer through a second year without a budget.

Back to the Future: The Electoral College Strikes Again

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Monday’s post analyzed one of the greatest upsets in presidential election history and parsed the polls that predicted the opposite. Today we’d like to revisit the venerable Electoral College, back in the news after a sixteen-year hiatus.

The vote count continues, but as of this writing, Hillary Clinton claims a popular vote lead approaching 800,000 votes nationally, besting Donald Trump 47.8% to 47.2%. Trump, of course, leads in the only place that matters, the Electoral College, 290 to 232, with Michigan’s 18 electoral votes still outstanding but likely to be added to his column in the coming days.

2016 Election Results Courtesy of 270toWin.com

This dichotomy has occurred four times in our nation’s history, and twice in the last five presidential elections.

Conventional wisdom heading into November 8th was that Democrats had an Electoral College firewall that included the two coasts, selected states in the Mountain West, and most of the Rust Belt. This would protect against potential losses in Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. The firewall cracked in the industrial Midwest, propelling Trump past the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

Beneath the surface, Clinton ran up the score in blue states like California and Illinois, and closed the gap from 2012 and earlier in red states with large Latino populations like Texas and Arizona. However, at the end of the day, they remained part of the vast inland red sea.

The Democratic vote remains heavily concentrated in urban areas. This is a numerical advantage from the perspective that more than 62% of the population resides here, but its concentration in California and along the Eastern Seaboard makes controlling Congress, and prevailing in the Electoral College, increasingly difficult as the Republican vote is more geographically dispersed.

Parties are evolving coalitions, and every victory and defeat spurs a reaction. Democrats will likely lick their wounds and strategize on how they might win back the white working class vote. And Republicans would be wise to consider how they can better appeal to Millennials, communities of color, and college-educated whites as a demographic death spiral looms.

Split decisions like 2016 inevitably lend themselves to discussions of abolishing the Electoral College. This would require a constitutional amendment, and retiring Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has filed such legislation. Even without strong Republican headwinds, the prospects of its success are arduous at best.

A couple of more modest statutory reforms may also surface. They include states adopting the Maine and Nebraska approach of awarding electoral votes by congressional district, or the campaign for the National Popular Vote, where states agree to deliver their electoral votes to the popular vote winner once a coalition of states holding 270 or more votes emerges. Illinois is among eleven states that have already adopted this legislation, but prospects of further gains are dim in the short-term given unified Republican control of 33 of 50 state legislatures, and partial control in six others.

Conventional Wisdom and Polling Data Challenged in 2016 Election Aftermath

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Six days removed from the toxic 2016 Election, we are still left with lingering questions, in desperate search for answers. In the next several posts, we’ll attempt to collectively discover them, and encourage you to send along topics you’d like us to discuss.

One prominent question is how did so-called political experts, myself included, get the presidential race so wrong?

There is no single explanation, of course, but clearly the strength of Donald Trump’s candidacy was underestimated from day one of his campaign. Like President Obama in 2008 and 2016, Trump reshaped the electorate, consolidating the traditional Republican base while also extracting working class whites from the Democratic coalition, perhaps once and for all. In so doing, Trump altered the electoral map, weaving the Solid South with the Rust Belt, thereby neutralizing the bi-coastal strength of the Clinton candidacy.

In spite of Clinton’s well-funded and functioning campaign apparatus, her establishment credentials were anathema in another change election. The late-breaking revelation of further FBI scrutiny of her emails certainly didn’t help, and the all-clear arrived too late as the damage was already done. Clinton underperformed Obama among key demographic groups and turnout from the Democratic coalition was depressed in key cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

A related question centers on perceived polling inaccuracies. True, Clinton underperformed national polls that had her ahead by three-plus points, but her narrow popular vote margin falls within standard polling error. The most glaring misses occurred in the Midwest, where polls showed Clinton with comfortable leads in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. She lost the latter three and narrowly carried the Land of 10,000 Lakes. They did pick up on Trump’s traction in Iowa and Ohio, and this correlated with his strength across the Rust Belt.

Polls are calibrated with predicted turnout models and some failed to account for depressed Democratic turnout in tandem with robust voting patterns among working class whites in rural areas.

Moreover, polling in the modern era is rife with difficulty on account of a max exodus away from landlines and a reluctance to answer calls from unknown numbers. There is also the possibility that some Trump supporters refused to reveal their preference to a pollster, but later cast ballots in his favor.

Finally, there was an unusually high percentage of undecided voters going into the final stretch of the campaign when the last polls were in the field. These voters broke decisively (3-2) to Trump on Election Day.

It’s far too simple to say that data lost alongside the Democratic (and perhaps Republican) establishment last Tuesday. Polls are mere predictions and were successful in capturing late momentum towards Trump. And the only poll that counts involves actual ballots.

Teachers Stand Tall During Time of National Healing

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Emotions in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election results remain raw, so my first post-mortem analysis will focus on addressing them with our students. Future posts will examine policy consequences, polling errors, and an Electoral College redux, but we teach in a deeply-divided state and country, and are obligated to build bridges with our students towards a better future.

In some ways, Illinois is an outlier in that it voted decisively for Hillary Clinton, isolated in a vast inland sea of Trumpian red. However, her 16-point statewide victory masks Donald Trump taking 92 of 102 counties, including massive margins in Southern Illinois. Thus, depending upon where we teach, our students may be jubilant or depressed, vindicated or fearful. Of course, this also holds true for their parents.

Courtesy of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

However, in the policy alternatives he has prescribed, revelations of past indiscretions, and statements and behaviors on the stump, Trump has threatened and demeaned women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities, and veterans. His victory must not give license for such words and actions to be replicated within our school communities, and we have a special obligation as educators to protect our most vulnerable students.

As friends, colleagues, and students have come to me in search of comfort, I have assured them that civil liberties have many safeguards. While Republicans will have unified control of the White House and Congress come January, Democrats retain the filibuster in the Senate. Moreover, it is not a given that congressional Republicans will uniformly rally behind a president that represents a significant break in party orthodoxy.

True, President-elect Trump will likely fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, but he or she must survive the threat of a Democratic filibuster, preventing a candidate outside of the mainstream of American legal doctrine. And Chief Justice Roberts himself places preservation of the integrity of the institution he leads above all else.

The Constitution itself defines these checks and balances, with the Bill of Rights standing as a bulwark for minority rights.

Most importantly, elections are beginnings, not ends. This remains a constitutional democracy, and it is the duty of the people to hold our elected officials accountable within these institutional parameters, simultaneously safeguarding civil liberties.

In this time of national healing, give yourself and your students the opportunity and space to make sense of what transpired and what it means for the future. Tuesday’s results predestine nothing, and for our students, our colleagues, our families and friends, and our country, we must lean in and collectively construct a more perfect union.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Election Day is here, and like me, many of you will have already cast your vote by the time you read this post, happy to check off this cycle’s thankless chore, having chosen the lesser of two evils. For even the most ardent of political junkies among us, instead of reveling in this great exercise of democratic governance, we’ll close our eyes after hours of election results and collectively exalt, “Good riddance.”

I’ve lamented before about the special challenges of teaching this election, so will pivot instead to the important work that lies ahead in our classrooms beginning tomorrow.

Tonight’s presidential outcome and control of the U.S. Senate promise to be closer than we anticipated even ten days ago. Many of our students and their parents will have supported or even voted for losing candidates. They may very well feel like doomsday has arrived. And many of their concerns and grievances are real.

But we cannot allow them to forget that the victors represent every one of us. I’m hopeful that olive branches are extended in tonight’s victory and concession speeches, as the peaceful transfer of power is one of the things that make America great.

Our founders were visionaries in designing a system where the sum of its parts is greater than any single leader. Checks and balances are well-established throughout our federal system, and divided party government is likely to continue in Washington and Springfield, instituting yet another protection against individuals and party platforms outside the boundaries of mainstream political discourse.

It’s incumbent upon tonight’s victors to build a bigger tent, where injustices experienced by communities of color are addressed alongside the economic anxieties of the white working class, where the retirement security of Baby Boomers is balanced with college affordability and employment opportunities among Millennials.

The challenges facing this country and state are too steep for the “us versus them” battles of this election and the dysfunction that preceded it to rage on. Therefore, we must reward our leaders for politically courageous acts, and vote those that place party or ideology above country out of office. And we must work hand-in-hand with elected and appointed officials from both parties to affect positive policy change as an exercise in self-government.

Whether we voted to “Make America Great Again” or concluded that we’re “Better Together,” the answer to our democracy’s wicked problems lies in our hands. As educators we play a profound role in our students’ civic development. In so doing, we empower them to build a more perfect union.

We salute you for the difficult work you have so faithfully pursued with your students this spring and fall. In an election without heroes, you, the great civics teachers of Illinois and the country, have saved the day.

Teaching the 2016 Election: Closing Arguments

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

We’ll conclude our extensive coverage of teaching the 2016 election with two final posts. Today’s will provide a late stage analysis of races up and down the ballot six days from Election Day. Monday’s post will address where we go from here as a country and as educators with our students.

Despite the topsy-turvy nature of the presidential contest, it has remained remarkably stable from a polling perspective. Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to prevail next Tuesday, but recent revelations related to her email server and leaked exchanges of top campaign officials have narrowed her lead. Her projected 3.7% margin over Donald Trump according to FiveThirtyEight.com mirrors that of President Obama over Mitt Romney four years ago.

Moreover, Clinton has multiple paths to the 270 electoral votes necessary to prevail, while Trump needs to thread the needle. According to FiveThirtyEight.com’s state-by-state projections, Clinton would win 323 electoral votes to Trump’s 215. The GOP nominee is within striking distance in Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada, but even then, Clinton wins 273 to 265.

Image taken from FiveThirtyEight.com

Trump’s best chance of picking up an additional state to prevail is in Colorado where Clinton is a favorite to win with 75.5% probability. The Trump campaign is also focused on Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but Clinton is favored in each state with 78% probability or more.

Polling errors are a legitimate issue and the race is close enough for Trump to retain a three-in-ten chance in prevailing. Remember that most polls have a three point or so margin of error, meaning we may subtract three points from the leader’s margin and add three points to the underdog, so Trump could conceivably be leading 48% to Clinton’s 45.8%.

Turning to the Senate, Democrats have nearly a two-thirds chance of regaining control. They need to net five seats (or four if Clinton wins), with probable pick-ups in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and narrower leads in New Hampshire, Indiana, and Missouri. Democrats are defending retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid’s open seat, but Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is ahead and seeking to become the first female Latino U.S. Senator.

On the House side, Republicans are highly likely to retain control, the only question being by how large of margin. The GOP enters with 200 of the 218 seats necessary for a majority considered safe, and another 25 leaning or likely in their column (this includes the 12th District in Southern Illinois). Thus, Democrats would have to win all of the true toss-ups (26, including the Dold-Schneider rematch in Chicago’s northern suburbs), the six seats considered likely/ lean Democratic, and eight of the aforementioned likely/ lean Republican.

Down-ballot in Illinois, the Munger-Mendoza proxy war has turned into a multi-million dollar mudslinging slugfest for the right to pay the state’s delinquent bills, while a handful of contested suburban and downstate legislative contests will determine whether or not Speaker Madigan retains a supermajority of Democrats vis a vis the Springfield Stalemate. Finally, the Safe Roads Amendment polls incredibly well, but good government organizations across the spectrum have questioned its wisdom (Better Government Association, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, and Civic Federation, among others).

Taken together, this teachable moment that is the 2016 Election has been one for the history books. As campaigns prepare for their final 72-hour push to the polls, its verdict lies in the hands of voters, including first time participants that we ably equipped to make informed decisions.