October 15, 2013

Poll: Southern Illinois voters are ready for reform

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois voters overwhelmingly support a variety of reform measures they think may improve Illinois government and politics, according to a new poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

From term limits and open primaries to campaign contribution limits and redistricting, the poll showed there is broad support for changes to Illinois’ political processes.

“It is remarkable how consistently the voters of Southern Illinois favor significant changes,” said John S. Jackson, one of the co-directors of the poll.  “The dominant position, usually favored by 60 to 75 percent of the voters, is in favor of change -- of trying something new to see if it works.”

The poll of registered voters in 18 counties south of Interstate 64 was taken Sept. 20 through Oct. 2.  The survey was based on a random sample of 403 registered voters who responded to telephone interviews; 30 percent of the sample was made up of cell phone users. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Results of the poll are available here.

According to the poll, voters support:

Term limits for state legislators: Voters approve of limiting state representatives to five terms and state senators to three terms.  A total of 74.7 percent favored or strongly favored this measure while 21.1 percent opposed it.

In a more philosophical vein, voters were also asked whether term limits made legislators more responsive to their constituents.  A total of 73.2 percent agreed or strongly agreed that term limits had this effect while 19.9 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with this proposition.

Critics claim that term limits don’t give elected officials enough time to develop the expertise necessary to handle the state’s challenging problems.  Only 32 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this criticism while a total of 62.8 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

In addition, the respondents were asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “Term limits ensure that we’ll get new people with fresh ideas coming into office.”  Only 12.2 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with this proposition while a total of 86.2 percent agreed or strongly agreed.

Another common criticism is that “term limits force legislators out of office, even if their constituents want to keep them, thereby giving more power to lobbyists and unelected staff.”  There were 54.8 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed while 34.2 percent agreed or strongly agreed with it.

Term limits for legislative leaders: A closely related question asked about term limits for those who hold leadership positions in the General Assembly.  Here the approval levels were even higher with 83.1 percent supporting term limits for legislative leaders and 13.4 percent opposed.

Limiting legislative leaders’ contributions to members: Campaign finance is a controversial area in Illinois politics and the poll asked for the voters’ opinions of a proposal to limit the amount of money legislative leaders can raise and then transfer to other candidates.  The current practice is a key component of the power leaders of the General Assembly have.

There were 59.1 percent of the respondents favoring limits on the amounts of money leaders can transfer to members while 32.7 percent opposed.

Open primaries:  Current Illinois law requires voters to publicly ask for a specific party’s ballot if they want to vote in that party’s primary.  Southern Illinoisans said they supported a change to a completely open primary where the voter does not have to declare which party’s ballot they requested.  Three-fourths (75.7 percent) favored or strongly favored the open primary while only 17.4 percent opposed or strongly opposed it. 

Redistricting reform: Drawing legislative district lines is another area where there is much discussion about how Illinois creates districts and how that system might be improved.  The current system provides that the two political parties form a redistricting commission that draws a map every 10 years. However, if the two parties cannot agree on a plan, which usually happens, they end the stalemate by drawing one party’s name out of a hat.  The winning party gets to draw the new legislative district map.

This plan was explained to the respondents and they were asked if they approved or disapproved of it.  Only 16.7 percent approved or strongly approved while 75 percent disapproved or strongly disapproved.

If Illinois were to change the current system, two options have been advanced by reformers:

  • One plan would have the Illinois Supreme Court add a neutral person to the redistricting commission if there is a partisan tie.  This would effectively break the tie.

A total of 74 percent of Southern Illinois voters favored or strongly favored this change while only 18 percent opposed it. 

  • Another more drastic change would involve a constitutional amendment requiring legislative maps be drawn by a commission that is independent of the elected representatives.  This is essentially the plan used by our neighboring state of Iowa.

When offered this option, 64.8 percent of the voters favored or strongly favored this new plan while a total of 22.6 percent opposed or strongly opposed it.  

The poll of 403 registered voters covered the 18 southernmost counties in Illinois:  Alexander, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Massac, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Union, Washington, White, and Williamson.  Live phone interviews were conducted September 20 through October 2.  The sample has a margin for error of 4.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.  This means that if we conducted the survey 100 times, in 95 of those instances, the result would be within plus or minus 4.9 percentage points from the results obtained here.

Telephone interviews were conducted by Customer Research International of San Marcos, Texas.  It reports no Illinois political figures as clients.  The poll was paid for with non-state dollars using proceeds from the Institute’s endowment fund.

For more information, contact Charles Leonard at 618/303-9099 or Jackson at 618/453-4009.

Note:  The “Simon Poll” and “Southern Illinois Poll” are copyrighted trademarks of the Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University.  Use of publication of these polls is encouraged, but only with credit to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.