Democratic primary shows a gulf remains between Chicago's black and Latino voters


The biggest voting gap in Chicago in last Tuesday's primary was between blacks and Latinos. - SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
  • Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • The biggest voting gap in Chicago in last Tuesday's primary was between blacks and Latinos.

Polls had suggested that Hillary Clinton would trounce Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary in Illinois, but last Tuesday's contest ended up practically a draw. A poll in mid-February had Clinton beating Sanders by 19 points; a Tribune poll in early March showed Clinton winning by 42 points. Ultimately she snuck by Sanders, 50.5 percent to 48.7 percent. Since delegates in Illinois are awarded in proportion to the vote, Clinton and Sanders will wind up with nearly the same number: according to the latest estimate, Clinton will get 73 and Sanders 70. Clinton won bragging rights, but when you start a 100-yard dash with a 20-yard lead, winning by a nose isn't much to brag about.

Voters in the 14 majority-white wards split almost evenly on Clinton-Sanders. Sanders won eight of the wards; in the 14 wards combined, he edged Clinton, 51 percent to 49 percent. Clinton swept the wealthy lakefront wards (the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th); Sanders did better away from the lake.

The biggest voting gap in Chicago wasn't between blacks and whites, but between blacks and Latinos.

Clinton wouldn't have won Illinois at all if not for Chicago's black voters. The city's 18 majority-black wards all went for Clinton by a combined 65 per cent to 35 percent. She won these wards 181,000 to 100,000. Sanders won the rest of Illinois 872,000 to 826,000.

Sanders, on the other hand, won 13 of Chicago's 14 majority-Latino wards, by a combined 56 percent to 44 percent. (Sanders also prevailed by similar percentages in the predominantly Latino suburbs of Cicero and Berwyn.)

Chicago's black and Latino voters united to reelect Harold Washington mayor in 1987, but they've been going their separate ways ever since, and the primary showed this has yet to change.

The support Sanders got from Latinos in the Chicago area last Tuesday was surprising in light of national polls. A survey of Latino voters in mid-February by the Washington Post and Univision News found 57 percent of respondents supporting Clinton, and 28 percent backing Sanders. The backing from Latinos here bodes well for Sanders in primaries to come, particularly the one in California in June.

Jesus Garcia, marching in the Columbus Day Parade last October. The 2015 mayoral candidate campaigned hard for Bernie Sanders. - JAMES FOSTER / FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
  • James Foster / For Sun-Times Media
  • Jesus Garcia, marching in the Columbus Day Parade last October. The 2015 mayoral candidate campaigned hard for Bernie Sanders.

County commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia campaigned for Sanders throughout the Chicago area. As the primary neared, he sensed growing enthusiasm for Sanders among Latinos, especially younger ones, he told me after the election. He said Latinos were drawn to Sanders because of his immigration proposals, and also his calls for free public college and higher minimum wages.

"Young voters and first-time voters, many of whom registered on election day, showed up in droves," Garcia said. In Little Village, where Garcia lives, "people were turning up who we'd never seen before."

He was gratified by the Latino vote for Sanders, and disappointed by how strongly the black vote went for Clinton: "I still can't comprehend why the African-American community remains enamored with the Clintons."

Earlier in the campaign, Clinton supporters maintained that black voters would continue to be her "fire wall," an assertion that some Sanders supporters rejected. "The goddamn fire wall has a crack in it," rapper Killer Mike insisted in late February, before the South Carolina primary. But no crack has appeared yet on an election day, and it certainly didn't materialize last week in Chicago's black precincts.

Nationally, it's interesting to compare the response of black voters with that of millennials, who've solidly supported Sanders. In last week's New Yorker, Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin told Ryan Lizza that millennials back Sanders "because their generation is so fucked, for lack of a better word"—they doubt that the standard Democratic medicine is the antidote for their heavy student-loan debt, high health-care costs, and lousy job prospects. For many blacks on Chicago's south and west sides, things have been fucked, for lack of a better word, for decades, even under Democratic administrations. And from Hillary's husband, they got a crime bill that sent more blacks to prison and a welfare "reform" bill that made the poor even poorer.

Election judge Elvin Loyd, shown on primary day in a precinct in Greater Grand Crossing. She says she voted for Clinton because, ‘I don't know nothing about Sanders.’ - STEVE BOGIRA
  • Steve Bogira
  • Election judge Elvin Loyd, shown on primary day in a precinct in Greater Grand Crossing. She says she voted for Clinton because, ‘I don't know nothing about Sanders.’

And yet black Chicago voters keep going with the devil they know. On the afternoon of election day, in a precinct in the gym of Tanner elementary in Greater Grand Crossing, Elvin Loyd, a 75-year-old election judge, said she voted for Clinton because "I don't know nothing about Sanders." Then Loyd shrugged and added, "I don't really know nothing about Hillary Clinton, but I know who she is." Her precinct, the 39th in the Sixth Ward, went for Clinton, 229 to 125.

"I'm very frustrated about my people who would blindly throw their support behind [Clinton]," Tara Stamps told me before the primary. Stamps, a teacher who's black and lives in Austin, was on the ballot in the seventh congressional district as a Sanders delegate. (It's not clear yet whether she won a spot.) She said she thought black voters were too willing to settle "for what they think they can get when they should be thinking about what they're willing to fight for."

Demographic factors aside from race and ethnicity likely played a role in the gap between black and Latino voters on Clinton-Sanders. Women tend to support Clinton, and there are significantly more of them among voting-aged blacks in Chicago (probably due mainly to the high imprisonment rate and shorter life expectancy of black men). My calculations of census estimates from the years 2010-2014 show that among 18-and-older blacks in Chicago, 57 percent are women. Among Chicago Hispanics of voting age, 48 percent are women; half of adult whites in Chicago are women. There are also smaller proportions of millennials among black Chicagoans of voting age: the proportion of 18- to 34-year-olds among adult blacks here is 24 percent, compared with 29 percent for Latinos and 33 percent for whites.

Eleven months ago, Rahm Emanuel was lifted to reelection over Garcia in the mayoral runoff by the same black wards that lifted Clinton to her slim victory Tuesday. But Garcia remains hopeful that blacks and Latinos will unite one day soon behind candidates who offer an alternative to the status quo.

I asked Garcia, who turns 60 next month, if he might ever run again for office other than county board. He said yes. Would he run for mayor in 2019? "The last election is still too fresh," he said, and the 2019 mayoral election "too far away. I want to watch what happens."

But he was quick to point out that Sanders has mounted a vigorous presidential campaign at the age of 74. "I don't know how he does it," Garcia said with a laugh. "Bernie Sanders has shamed many of us who have complained that the campaign trail is tough." Garcia's subtext seemed to be that he won't be too old to run for mayor again three years from now. Whether the long-awaited black-Latino coalition will have formed by then is another question.

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