Voters Clueless in Fifth District | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Voters Clueless in Fifth District

The primary election to replace Rahm Emanuel in the U.S. Congress is now just two weeks away. And early voting already started yesterday. Voters have plenty of choice in the race. In fact, they probably have too much choice.

In all, there are 23 candidates on the ballot 12 democrats, 6 republicans and 5 green party candidates. But out in the district on Chicago's North Side, if you ask people about the election, the answers are pretty much the same.

VOX: What election are you talking about... I'm tired of politics in general right now.

One would think that given recent events in illinois politics voters would be more engaged than ever not less engaged; more aware of the need to be vigilant and educated in the voting booth. And this is a particularly high profile seat. It was recently vacated by Rahm Emanuel who left to become President Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel's predecessor was the now internationally notorious former governor Rod Blagojevich. So there should be plenty of interest in the crowded field. Nonetheless, Brian Byrne can name only one candidate Pat Quinn. Of course Pat Quinn is not a candidate.

BYRNE: Okay you know what, I'm thinking of... You know I'm sorry, it wasn't Pat Quinn, it was Quigley. What's his name? Mike Quigley?

Byrne is sitting in a lincoln square coffee shop. He's at the end of a long row of people at small round tables working on their laptops. The few tables where there are two people, there are also two computers. Byrne says he got a phone call the other night promoting Quigley, a call that was both annoying and trivial.

BYRNE: Sadly, like, I can sort of feel that call working now though because like, seriously, Quigley is the only person in that race I can think of right now. It's a little disturbing actually.

WILDEBOER: Why?

BYRNE: Cause you know, I don't like to be advertised to really and political ads that much more so and I guess it's, you know I like to think I would go look up the information in advance of the election but you know, my own personal track record has been that that really just doesn't always happen.

GITELSON: My guess is that most voters will go into this nomination process with a relatively limited amount of information. Alan Gitelson teaches political science at Loyola University in Chicago. He guesses that 50 to 70 percent of the voters and maybe even more, will vote for reasons that are not necessarily the most rational. He says people vote based on ethnicity, or on gender, or—and this is a big one—name recognition. That's right, our democracy is often based on people's ability to recognize names.

GITELSON: This is a critical variable for a lot of individuals because if a person feels they know somebody, a candidate for office, even if it is very much in passing, that provides an opportunity really to support that candidate in lieu of not having a lot of other information.

ambi: clapping. Well we have a packed house here. We're happy to see you and thank you very much for coming...

Last night 16 of the congressional candidates stretched across the stage of a Lincoln Park church that was hosting a forum. One late comer was almost out of luck.

ambi: There is no seat for him up here. Would you please get a seat for him please?

There were about a hundred people in the audience but many of them were campaign workers. Others, were with the organizations sponsoring the event but they didn't actually live in the district and won't be voting. And one guy had already voted. Greg Stewart was one of the few undecided voters. He was focusing on the democratic candidates.

STEWART: Seven of them got knocked out of the running tonight. They didn't bring it, you know?

Stewart says there wasn't enough time to really dig into any of the issues but he says he didn't really come for that, he came to read the people, to get a sense of who the individual candidates are.

STEWART: It's more for me to see how some people react to the questions so that I can say some people are a little bit stalwart, or didn't choose their words carefully, or that their physical reaction didn't seem to meet the question or they didn't listen to the question whatsoever in which case you know those people are getting strike marks in my book.

This was the second forum that Stewart has attended. The first led him to visit the offices of a few of the candidates. As he continues to whittle down his list, he says he'll dig into the issues by doing research at home.

Stewart is an exceptionally well educated voter and an exception of sorts to Political Science professor Alan Gitelson's rule that most voters cast irrational ballots. But Gitelson also offers some comfort. He says if irrational voters elect a bad candidate, they can always vote him out of office in the next election.

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