A poll released yesterday by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University shows that voters in the Land of Lincoln differ with state leaders in not so obvious ways.
Perhaps the most striking finding is that statewide acceptance of gay marriage is on a sharp rise.
Of the 1,261 registered Illinois voters polled over landline or cell phone between September 4 and 10, 43.6 percent said that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Another 31.8 percent of respondents said that legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples should stop at civil unions. Just 20.2 percent of respondents polled said there should be no legal recognition whatsoever of same-sex couples.
The poll was Democratic leaning, according to Charlie Leonard, visiting political science professor at Southern Illinois Univeristy. Thirty-six percent of survey respondents described themselves as Democrat, while 22.3 percent called themselves Republican.
Still, that disparity is almost identical to the Illinois Senate, which has 37 Democrats and 22 Republicans. And Capital Fax notes that the same Simon poll in 2010 found that just 33.6 percent of respondents favored same-sex marriage.
Leonard hypothesizes that the rise in support is partly due to a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions that became law in January 2011. “Civil unions passed in Illinois and the sky didn’t fall,” Leonard says. “Gay couples are just becoming less of a big deal.”
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who has sponsored legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, argues that the civil union bill and increased national spotlight meant that “a lot of people’s misconceptions were answered.”
While Harris calls the poll results a “remarkable shift”, he said that there is “not a concrete timetable” on moving gay marriage legislation languishing in the House rules committee. Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) has not taken a position on Harris’s legislation, though Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Gov. Pat Quinn both say they support same-sex marriage.
The poll also solicited opinions on a number of government reform measures, such as preventing lawmakers from immediately becoming lobbyists upon leaving the General Assembly. Respondents were generally supportive of such ideas, not surprising since 76.8 percent of those polled see “widespread corruption” in state government.
One finding that garnered enthusiastic voter support, but is greeted skeptically by political scientists falls under the idea of term limits for lawmakers. Fifty-four percent of voters “strongly favor” terms limits for members of the Illinois House and Senate and 78.7 percent “favor” the idea.
Leonard notes that Illinois lawmakers are not likely to enact legislation anytime soon that caps how long they have jobs, adding that a constitutional convention must be called to get a statewide initiative considered. The professor is skeptical that term limits would be a good idea.
“When you impose term limits, you automatically get rid of your institutional memory and you get a bunch of inexperienced legislators who depend on their staffs and lobbyists,” Leonard says.
Christopher Mooney, a political scientist professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield, has studied term limits enacted in other states, such as California. He says that governors in these states often gain power at the expense of legislators. However, lobbyists actually “hate it.”
“They have to meet with everybody,” Mooney says. “It’s a lot of extra work.”
Mooney says that term limits “remain extremely popular among voters because people really don’t like politicians.”
Illinois voters, though, are also not in love with business people as 62.3 percent of those surveyed believe corruption is widespread in Illinois business. The poll does not distinguish between types of businesses.
Another notable poll finding as the election approaches is that 66.5 percent of respondents oppose the U.S. Supreme Court 2010 ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The court allowed corporations and unions to spend an unlimited amount of money on political campaigns as long as they do not directly coordinate with candidates.