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Romney Carries Illinois Primary with Lowest Ever Winning Percentage

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The former Massachusetts governor becomes one of just three winners in 100 years of the primary to fail to reach the 50 percent mark

mittromney11.jpgMitt Romney blunted another potential Rick Santorum surge Tuesday with a win in Illinois, giving his campaign a third consecutive victory in the East North Central division of the Midwest - following his previous narrow victories in Michigan and Ohio.

Compared to Ohio (0.9 points) and Michigan (3.2 points), Romney's double-digit victory in Illinois was relatively comfortable.

However, when viewed through the lens of history, the former Massachusetts governor's victory in the Prairie State reveals he turned in some of the least impressive numbers ever tallied for a winner of the state's 100 year-old primary.

A Smart Politics study of Illinois Republican primary election returns finds Mitt Romney was victorious with the lowest percentage of the vote in the 26 cycles of the primary dating back to 1912.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Romney carried the state with just 46.7 percent of the vote - the lowest winning total in 100 years of presidential primaries in the state.

Only two other winners of the state's GOP primary have failed to win a majority of the vote: Ronald Reagan in 1980 (48.5 percent) and John McCain in 2008 (47.5 percent).

With Rick Santorum coming in second at 35.0 percent, Romney's margin of victory was also historically quite narrow.

The 11.7-point Romney Illinois win is tied for the second most narrowly decided finish across the 26 cycles of the state's presidential primary.

Only publisher Frank Knox's 7.9-point win over Idaho U.S. Senator William Borah in 1936 was more closely contested in a state that has averaged 58-point victory margins over the decades.

The Romney win was tied with and Reagan's 11.7-point victory over Illinois Congressman John Anderson in 1980.

In terms of raw vote, with a few precincts yet to report in Cook County as well as all of Macoupin County, the 2012 contest appears to be slated for the fifth largest turnout in state history.

With more than 917,000 votes tallied to date, only the primaries of 1952 (1.27 million), 1928 (1.18 million), 1980 (1.12 million), 1940 (977,777), and 1924 (919,082) had more voters, with this year's contest likely to overtake the latter.

Romney did decidedly better in Illinois than his father, George Romney, some 44 years ago. The elder Romney came in 7th place with 16 write-in votes in the state's 1968 primary - three and a half months after exiting the race in February.

Smallest Winning Percentage in Illinois Republican Primary, 1912-2012

Year
Winner
%
MoV
2012
Mitt Romney
46.7
11.7
2008
John McCain
47.5
18.9
1980
Ronald Reagan
48.5
11.7
1920
Frank Lowden
50.5
16.5
1936
Frank Knox
53.7
7.9
1988
George H.W. Bush
54.7
18.7
1924
Calvin Coolidge
58.0
16.0
1976
Gerald Ford
58.9
18.8
1912
Teddy Roosevelt
61.1
31.9
1964
Barry Goldwater
62.0
36.7
1996
Bob Dole
65.1
42.3
2000
George W. Bush
67.4
45.9
1952
Robert Taft
73.6
61.4
1992
George H.W. Bush
76.4
53.9
1968
Richard Nixon
78.1
68.4
1916
Lawrence Sherman
90.1
81.2
1944
Douglas MacArthur
92.0
85.7
1956
Dwight Eisenhower
94.9
90.8
1948
Riley Bender
96.9
94.9
1972
Richard Nixon
97.0
95.5
1928
Frank Lowden
99.4
99.0
1932
Joseph France
99.4
98.9
1940
Thomas Dewey
99.9
99.9
1960
Richard Nixon
99.9
99.9
1984
Ronald Reagan
99.9
99.9
2004
George W. Bush
100.0
100.0
---
Average
75.8
57.9
Table compiled by Smart Politics from data culled from the Illinois Secretary of State and Illinois State Board of Elections.

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Previous post: Will Santorum Give Illinois Its Most Competitive GOP Primary in 100 Years?
Next post: Moments in Etch A Sketch Political History

2 Comments


  • To say that support for Mitt Romney is less than enthusiastic is not really any exaggeration whatsoever, and these data once again prove that.
    Also, the saying that eventually all will be forgotten and everyone will rally around and support Romney even if they didn't before, is a fantasy. If they are reluctant up until now to support him, there is no reason to put blind faith in the idea they will support him eventually because "that's what always happens". In fact, it does not always happen, history has proven that repeatedly.

  • Thanks for this illuminating table. Is there any way to get a county by county participation rate to compare counties to previous campaigns? I understand turnout in Chicago was depressed yesterday. I would like to compare turnout to other Illinois counties. Thanks again.

  • Leave a comment


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