“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.


Since we launched the project in the fall of 2017, members of the project team have scanned more than 1000 images of precinct-level election results in 20 elections, photographed ward and precinct maps for more than than 15 elections, have entered more than 100,000 cells of data, and now have complete data for the 1936 federal election.

In this election, Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide victory nationally over Alfred Landon, and Democrats held the Senate and House of Representatives.  In Chicago, Democrats won 9 of 10 House seats with precincts in the city, with the exception of IL-10 on the north side.

These two precinct maps show several Republican strongholds in the city of Chicago — two on the north side, around Rogers Park/West Ridge/Jefferson Park and the Gold Coast, and two on the south side, in the Black Belt and Morgan Park/Beverly — and a handful of other neighborhoods.

This election was notable for the re-election of Democrat Arthur Mitchell, who won the IL-1 district.  Mitchell, an African American, helped lead the Democratic National Committee’s effort to appeal to black voters, shifting them from loyalty to the Party of Lincoln and contributing to Roosevelt’s landslide.  However, Mitchell lost most of the precincts in the Black Belt in his own district, as the first map shows, and relied mostly upon white voters in the Loop and South Loop area for his victory.

In the book Nobody Nobody Sent, Jacob Arvey reflects on his career, noting that his 24th ward (around Lawndale) was the strongest Democratic district in the country in 1936, earning a congratulatory note from Roosevelt and his staff.

Next steps for the grant include completing the 1983 mayoral primary and the 1983 mayoral general election, as well as applying for NEH grant funding.  In addition, we will be creating the data collection in the VT data repository and depositing this data for 1936.