A WBEZ analysis of this week’s election results reflects a number of continuing trends witnessed in Chicago’s recent elections: varying candidate preferences in different parts of the city and among different racial and ethnic groups of voters, as well as wild variations in voter turnout.
Tuesday’s results also illustrated how the fortunes of some candidates changed from their previous runs for mayor. And the results may also illuminate potential pathways to victory for the two remaining mayoral candidates — Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson — who will go head-to-head in an April 4 runoff.
Here are five takeaways from WBEZ’s analysis of the mayor’s race and voter turnout in Tuesday’s election.
1. Vallas and Johnson — strong and steady
Vallas emerged Tuesday night with the most votes citywide backed by dominant performances in precincts on the city’s Far Northwest and Southwest sides and strong showings in precincts in and around downtown.
Vallas carried every precinct in the 2nd, 38th, 41st, 42nd and 43rd wards — with percentages ranging from 40% to 82%. In all, Vallas finished first in nearly 500 of the city’s roughly 1,300 precincts. He finished second more than 300 others.
Johnson captured first-place in far fewer precincts, more than 225 citywide. He carried dozens of precincts on the city’s Near Northwest Side and along the lakefront, both on the Far North Side and South Side. Johnson won every precinct in the 49th Ward. He also claimed the top spot in more than 10 precincts each in the 1st, 26th, 33rd, 35th, 40th, 46th, 47th and 48th wards.
The incumbent, Lori Lightfoot, actually outpaced Johnson in first-place finishes among the city’s precincts with more than 380. But Johnson was a steady performer, finishing among the top three candidates in more than 1,100 precincts citywide, the most of any candidate. Johnson finished second in more than 400 precincts and third in close to another 480 precincts. On the other hand, Lightfoot finished second in about 110 precincts and third in close to 200 others.
Meanwhile, Lightfoot’s first-place finishes were almost exclusively among precincts on the city’s South and West sides. Jesus “Chuy” García captured first place in almost 175 precincts on the city’s Northwest, Southwest and Southeast sides. And Willie Wilson finished first in about 15 precincts scattered across the South and West sides.
2. Candidate preferences varied among different groups of voters
WBEZ analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to determine the racial and ethnic make-up of the voting-age population for the city’s nearly 1,300 precincts.
Vallas did really well among voters in majority-Asian and majority-white precincts, capturing roughly 60% and 48% of the overall vote in those precincts, respectively. García was the top choice, collectively, among voters in majority-Latino precincts garnering about 38% of the vote. Lightfoot finished first, overall, in majority-Black precincts with more than 38% of the vote. And Vallas earned the most votes, about 30% collectively, in precincts with no racial or ethnic majority.
Johnson, on the other hand, did not finish first, overall, among any demographic grouping of precincts. In each of those groupings, Johnson finished either second or third.
3. Citywide voter turnout flirting with history?
The 19th Ward on the Far Southwest Side, a perennial Chicago leader in voter turnout, registered the city’s highest turnout percentage at 58.1% — nearly 10 percentage points more than the next highest ward. Precincts in the 11th, 13th, 23rd, 39th, 41st, 45th and 48th wards were also among the city’s highest for turnout.
Citywide, preliminary turnout currently stands at roughly 35.8%. That’s one of the highest rates in the past 20 years, surpassed only by the 42.3% mark in the February 2011 election. However, this year’s showing is still among the lowest turnout rates for a February municipal election in the last 80 years.
4. Endorsements and higher voter turnout could provide an edge in the runoff
Combined, Vallas and Johnson captured more than 54% of the vote citywide. But more than 220,000 Chicagoans voted for either Lightfoot, García or Wilson, whose endorsements could sway those voters to switch allegiances in the April 4 runoff.
Additionally, energizing registered voters who sat out this week’s election could also provide an advantage in the runoff. Overall, voter turnout figures were lower in precincts where Lightfoot, García and Wilson led all candidates than those captured by either Vallas or Johnson. Voter turnout was also lower in majority-Black and majority-Latino precincts compared to other precincts in the city.
5. Vallas, Lightfoot and García: Then and Now
Tuesday’s results showed that a few years can make a big difference for some candidates. Vallas, Lightfoot and García performed much differently in this year’s municipal general election than they did in their previous campaigns.
In February 2019, Vallas was an also-ran, finishing 9th among 14 candidates and claiming just 5% of the vote citywide. Vallas was one of six white candidates in that field. However, as the lone white candidate in this year’s election, Vallas captured vote percentages similar to the combined totals for all six white candidates in the 2019 municipal general election.In the 2019 municipal general election, Lightfoot scored victories along the lakefront on the North Side to catapult her to the top of the field and to claim a spot in the runoff election that year. And while Lightfoot captured a similar share of the citywide vote this time — 17.5% in 2019 compared to 16.9% in 2023 — many progressive voters on the North Side abandoned Lightfoot. Johnson led the pack in many of the areas where Lightfoot performed well four years ago. Instead, Lightfoot’s base of support this year shifted to majority-Black precincts on the city’s South and West sides. In 2019, voters in those precincts more often voted for Wilson and Cook County Board Chairwoman Tony Preckwinkle.
Meanwhile, in 2015, García captured a majority of the vote in majority-Latino precincts and performed well enough elsewhere to force former mayor Rahm Emanuel into a runoff. This year, however, García’s numbers were down across the board, and he dipped to a distant fourth-place finish.