“Mapping Chicago Politics”

Last week, I gave a public talk at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities titled “Mapping Chicago Politics: The Power of Data-Driven Storytelling.”

Project assistants had completed data processing for several new elections, including the 1983 mayoral primary and general election and, using this data, the talk focused on new ways of discussing racial coalitions in moments, like the current one without an incumbent candidate, of electoral upheaval.

As I noted in a previous update regarding the House elections of the 1930s, African Americans, located in the Black Belt, still voted heavily Republican. This held true for the 1936 election for IL-01, meaning whites in Ward 1 (the Loop and South Loop) and at the lake’s edge of Ward 2 (Douglas and Prairie Shores) elected Arthur Mitchell, a counterintuitive way of thinking about the power of the New Deal and Democratic ticket-voting. Simply put, the first black Democrat in Congress was not elected by African Americans. Mitchell was renowned as being unresponsive to the local African American community, which is why William Dawson was able to help Mitchell into retirement and solidify a hold on the South Side from the 1940s on in a way that Mitchell never could. South Side African Americans were not his constituency, a fundamental contradiction and challenge of his Congressional career.

We sped through the Richard J. Daley years to the 1983 primary and general election, which featured wins by Harold Washington. In the primary, Washington’s support was clear and solid, while Byrne and Richard M. Daley split the vote on the northwest and southwest sides.

Bridgeport went strongly for Daley, but Sauganash, where Byrne grew up, was not the same source of electoral strength for the incumbent mayor. The racial divisions were clear in the primary and in the general election. Democratic voting dropped as much as 95% on the northwest side, as Dems either stayed home or, more likely, voted for Epton in the general, buying into the racial fears the Republican’s campaign stoked.

In the course of the talk, I called Washington’s win a victory “of African Americans and for African Americans” and critiqued the idea that “lakefront liberals” were an important part of the Washington coalition. There were a few key figures, to be sure, but the lakefront was not a key part of the electoral victory — it was a small set of neighborhoods, in stark contrast to the overwhelming role of African American voters. One person asked whether Latinos were not part of the Washington coalition, which is an excellent question to ask of the data, which I’ll be taking up in the near future.

I also did some archival and scanning work, and will be able to share that soon, along with a formal first data release in May.