CHICAGO — With early voting starting in some parts of Illinois this week, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker holds a commanding 15-point lead over GOP challenger, State Sen. Darren Bailey, according to a new WGN-TV/The Hill/Emerson College Polling survey of likely voters. Debates between Pritzker and Bailey will be held on October 6 in Peoria and October 18 in Chicago. Both debates will be live streamed online.

A majority of voters (51%) support Pritzker’s re-election while 36% support Bailey. Just 5% of those polled say they plan to vote for someone else and 8% remain undecided, with just under six weeks left until Election Day. 

Trying to make up ground against Pritzker, Bailey’s campaign has been driving home a tough-on-crime message. The downstate farmer turned politician announced earlier this month that he was renting an apartment in downtown Chicago, where he would keep close tabs on the issue. Bailey, who has repeatedly referred to the city as a “hellhole,” has held campaign events at locations where highly publicized crimes occurred.

But despite Bailey’s efforts, and an onslaught of political ads paid for by Dan Proft’s “People Who Play By the Rules” PAC, Illinois likely voters say the economy is still the No. 1 issue (35%) driving their vote in November, followed by threats to democracy (17%) and abortion access (14%). 

Crime is fourth on that list, with only 10% of voters picking the issue as their top concern. Of that group, the advantage does go to Bailey. About 58% of those who say crime is their top issue support his campaign. 

Among voters who say the economy is their top issue, 57% say they plan to support Bailey. But 84% of those who say the threat to democracy is their top issue back Pritzker. 

Since the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade, Pritzker and Democratic allies have leaned into their support for abortion rights, promising to expand access for women. The strategy appears to be paying off, with 90% of those who say abortion access is their top concern planning to vote for his re-election. Pritzker also has broad support among female likely voters with 55% of women polled planning to vote for him, and 46% going for Bailey. Male voters were nearly split, with 46% supporting Pritzker and 44% supporting Bailey. 

There’s been much talk but little action on further solidifying Illinois’ status as an island of abortion access among Republican-led Midwestern states. A plurality of voters (46%) support increasing state funding for abortion clinics to accommodate patients from neighboring states, 37% say they’re opposed, 17% are unsure. 

Throughout the campaign, both Pritzker and Bailey have used harsh language to describe each other. Bailey calls Pritzker, who’s estimated net worth stands at $3.6 billion, out of touch. Pritzker has labeled Bailey, an evangelical backed by former President Donald Trump, too extreme.

Overall, 45% of Illinois likely voters say they have a favorable opinion of Pritzker, while 41% have an unfavorable view, and 35% of likely voters have a favorable view of Bailey, with 43% taking an unfavorable view. There’s a major split in support for the pair among urban, suburban and rural voters. Urban voters back Pritzker 63% to 25%, suburban voters favor Pritzker 49% to 37% and rural voters favor Bailey 50% to 36%. 

Both campaigns have been courting voters in Chicago’s suburbs, often seen as a key voting block for Republicans looking to solidify a statewide victory. Likely voters who were surveyed in that region are overwhelming breaking for Pritzker, with 61% saying they would vote for him compared to just 27% who choose Bailey. 

Criticism of the SAFE-T Act has grown in recent weeks, as a controversial provision of the sweeping reform bill is set to eliminate cash bail across Illinois on Jan. 1. Pritzker has defended the law, while also admitting changes will need to be made. Bailey and others have argued the change will put more dangerous people on the streets. Most Illinois voters (48%) surveyed say they think the SAFE-T Act will increase crime, 29% think it will have no impact on crime and 11% think it will decrease crime. About 13% have not heard of the policy.

Thoughts on the SAFE-T Act vary depending on where people live. A staggering 59% of rural voters say they believe the measure will increase crime compared to 41% of people who live in urban areas. In the suburbs, 47% percent of likely voters say it will increase crime. 

In the days following the Highland Park Fourth of July mass shooting, gun safety dominated headlines. A majority (54%) of those polled say they support a banning assault-style weapons, 33% oppose a ban and 13% say they’re unsure. 

In the contest for U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Tammy Duckworth is in strong position to win another term with half of Illinois voters (50%) backing her over Republican challenger Kathy Salvi, who has 31% support. About 1 in 6 votes, or 16%, say they’re undecided and 4% percent plan to vote for someone else.

Among Illinoisans, President Joe Biden approval rating stands at 49 % with 44% of likely voters disapproving of the job he’s doing.

Looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election and President Joe Biden defeats Trump in Illinois in a hypothetic matchup 51% to 38%.

METHODOLOGY

The Emerson College Polling/The Hill Illinois poll was conducted September 21-23, 2022. The sample consisted of somewhat and very likely voters, n=1,000, with a Credibility Interval (CI), similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3.02 percentage points. The data sets were weighted by gender, age, education, region, and race/ethnicity based on 2022 turnout modeling. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, education, and race/ethnicity carry with them higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using cell phones via SMS-to-web, an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines, and an online panel.