Takeaways From Rahm Emanuel's Win

Rahm Emanuel posted a double-digit win on Tuesday, beating Chuy Garcia by 12 points (56 percent Emanuel / 44 percent Garcia). Ultimately, after much ado about Emanuel being on the outs in February, the mayor held a lead throughout the entire runoff and closed out Garcia in a convincing manner. How did Emanuel do it, why was the conventional wisdom about Emanuel being in trouble so wrong and what can other candidates learn from his win?

All analysis below is based off of the City of Chicago's election results

1) Emanuel won in 35 of the city's 50 city council wards, bringing a similarly diverse coalition as he did in 2011 (and February 2015). Emanuel's 55 percent of the vote came from across the city -- he won more 70 percent of Chicago's city council wards. That includes big margins in many of the wards on the majority-white North side and the majority-black South and West sides. Garcia won in many of the city's majority-Latino wards.

The "Mayor 1 percent" narrative his opponents were pushing fell flat with the 99 percent. Emanuel won big in wealthy parts of the city on the North side, but he also won white middle and working-class neighborhoods on the North West side. And he won African-American neighborhoods across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Emanuel's wins extended to higher-crime areas of the city, too. For example, he won the Englewood-based 16th ward, one of the neighborhoods of Chicago most affected by crime. So much for the national narrative of Emanuel being responsible for a crime wave in Chicago (crime is actually dropping in Chicago, incidentally). Voters hit hardest by crime sent Emanuel back to office to continue addressing it.

Mayor Emanuel largely maintained his coalition from February while expanding on it. Emanuel won 36 wards in February, so Garcia was only able to flip one of the city's 50 wards from Emanuel to himself (the 10th ward, where Emanuel won by 0.5 percent in February). Through that lens, Emanuel's 12-point win over Garcia in February looks a lot less like a point of vulnerability and more like a stop on the road to victory.

2) Turnout was low in February when it seemed like Emanuel had the race in hand. But in April, voters showed up for him like they did in 2011. Only 478,000 voters turned out for the 2015 primary on a cold February day. That's reminiscent of turnout in Mayor Daley's re-election campaigns, where he typically won with token opposition. However, in the April 2015 runoff, 566,000 voters showed up to the polls. That's much more in line with the 2011 mayor's race with historically-high 590,000 votes. Chicagoans cared about this race, and they came to the polls in large numbers to re-elect the Mayor.

3) Emanuel's base showed up, while Garcia's didn't. The biggest jump in turnout was in wards Emanuel won. 62,000 more voters showed in April than February in wards he won, while only 26,000 additional voters showed up in wards Garcia won.

Garcia also had the fundamental problem of having substantially fewer voters in his wards generally. In the 35 wards Emanuel won, an average of 12,467 voters turned out in April. In the 15 Garcia won, an average of 8,664 people voted.

4) The small but vocal opposition to Emanuel on the city council would be wise not to interpret their gains as voters wanting that opposition to block Emanuel's agenda. Emanuel's opponents on the council slightly expanded their numbers on the city council, though still Emanuel's allies hold a clear working majority. But that's not a function of those Aldermen's voters being fed up with Emanuel: the mayor won his critics' city council wards on Tuesday. Of the eight current members of the anti-Emanuel caucus on the city council, Emanuel won six of their wards (Toni Foulkes now is in Ward 16, where Emanuel won). Across those eight wards Emanuel won by 11 percent (Emanuel 55.5 percent / Garcia 44.5 percent), almost identical to his citywide margin. My firm's polling in Aldermanic races showed that people don't view their city council member in a Emanuel vs. not Emanuel lens. Voters are more interested in whether their Alderman is doing a good job for their neighborhood.

5) A big part of Emanuel's win: he didn't get blown out in many places. There were very few places that voted monolithically against Emanuel, while Garcia lost badly in many parts of the city.

  • Garcia got less than 20 percent of the vote in 2 of the city's 50 wards. That didn't happen to Emanuel anywhere.
  • Garcia lost 28 of the city's 50 wards by double digits. Emanuel lost half as many (14) by that margin.

Even in the heavily-Latino wards where Emanuel lost, he had a solid base of support. That's an often-overlooked but crucial piece of winning a campaign -- Emanuel successfully reached out to every part of the city, even ones where he knew he was likely to lose. People running for office across the country would do well to emulate this model. A candidate should never write off a voter just because the conventional wisdom says they are going to lose people like that voter.

Brian Stryker is a partner at Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, a Democratic polling firm. He has polled extensively in Illinois, and he polled for candidates in 16 of Chicago's 50 Aldermanic wards in 2015.