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Miller: Relentless GOP attacks on Madigan may be working

Updated: September 14, 2012 6:11AM



The Illinois Republican Party has relentlessly bashed House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) almost every day via news release during the past few months.

Not much of that has earned media coverage, but the GOP obviously is hoping to make Madigan an issue in this election by blaming him for just about every major problem in Illinois, even more than it did two years ago.

Madigan also has been hammered by the Chicago Tribune in a series of stories about his alleged conflicts of interest, mainly through his law practice that mostly handles property tax appeals for major businesses.

Madigan initially dismissed the Tribune stories as “garbage” but eventually responded point by point in a letter that was mostly ignored by the media and never addressed by the Tribune. The Trib’s editorial board has led the charge against the speaker over the years, consistently critical of his powerful hold over House members and demanding his removal as speaker.

House Republicans have tried for at least two decades to make Madigan an issue in campaigns. They’ve never really succeeded, mainly because people hadn’t heard enough about Madigan to be moved by the GOP’s negative advertising.

Because it’s clear that the Republicans plan to make Madigan their favorite target again this year, I went looking for a poll to see if attacking him might be beneficial in a particular House race.

A north suburban district that leans Republican seemed a good place to look because the Tribune is read widely up there, and the residents might be more inclined to view Madigan as bad for Illinois.

Campaigns being campaigns, I can’t divulge which district this poll comes from, but it was paid for by a north suburban Republican. It was a legitimate live telephone poll of 301 people taken by a national pollster in mid-July.

Again, this district leans Republican, so the Madigan numbers are probably a bit worse than they would be statewide.

Madigan’s “image” was tested by the poll, which found his positive rating at just 16 percent and a negative rating of 44 percent. Just 3 percent had a strongly positive view of his image, while 31 percent had a strongly negative view.

But 40 percent either had never heard of Madigan (17 percent) or had no opinion of him (23 percent). This generally is regarded as a well-educated area with politically aware voters, yet a large percentage of its population doesn’t really seem to care either way about the speaker.

The crosstabs have a much higher margin of error than the full poll’s 5.7 percent, but they’re still worth a look.

In the age brackets, Madigan’s worst rating comes from people 65 and older. A whopping 63 percent of people in that age range have a negative opinion of him, with 53 percent having a strongly negative viewpoint. Only 8 percent of that age group had a positive view of him, and 29 percent either had never heard of him (9) or had no opinion (20).

In the group ages 55 to 64, 58 percent had a negative view of Madigan, while 42 percent of those who were ages 45 to 54 did so, and 28 percent of those ages 18 to 44 shared that negative opinion of him.

The general rule of thumb in politics is that the older one gets, the more one votes. And this poll in this House district clearly shows that the older one gets, the more one despises Michael Madigan.

Among independents in this district, a voting bloc that tends to lean more Republican, 46 percent had a negative view of Madigan, with 31 percent having a strongly negative view. But 43 percent either had never heard of Madigan (17) or didn’t have an opinion (26).

The bottom line here is that there are some real dangers for the Democrats concerning the House speaker’s negative public image.

His 59 percent negative rating among older women, who tend to be more independent, is high enough on its own to set off alarm bells, at least in this district. Even 41 percent of Democrats ages 55 and older didn’t think much of him, according to the poll.

So, yes, the cumulative result is the GOP attacks on the powerful speaker and his leadership may be having some effect. We’ll know more as the campaign proceeds.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com



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