Skip to main content
ABC News
Live Coverage: the Illinois Primary

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s live blog of the Republican primary in Illinois. We’ll have updates throughout the night with exit poll results, data-driven analysis, historical context and the final verdict of Illinois voters.

Auto-Refresh: ON
Turn ON
Refresh Now
10:28 P.M. A Big Win for Romney

With two-thirds of the vote counted in Illinois, Mitt Romney leads Rick Santorum 47 percent to 35 percent. Those numbers may vary slightly as the remaining returns come in, but the Chicago area and downstate Illinois have now reported a roughly equal share of their results, so the overall margin should be fairly close to that 12 points.

Mr. Romney’s margin of victory is fairly similar to that projected by polls, although technically both he and Mr. Santorum beat their polls while Newt Gingrich substantially underachieved his.

Delegates in Illinois are awarded entirely by Congressional district. So far, the Associated Press has called 22 delegates for Mr. Romney and none for Mr. Santorum. In the uncalled districts, 20 of Mr. Romney’s delegates hold leads while 12 of Mr. Santorum’s do, which would make the statewide split 42-12 if those current numbers hold.

Mr. Santorum cannot afford to be losing 30 delegates at a time to Mr. Romney; he will likely trail Mr. Romney by about 300 delegates nationwide once all of the Illinois results are tabulated. Rather than being a “must-win” for Mr. Romney, Illinois had been one of Mr. Santorum’s last and best chances to make a breakthrough.

FiveThirtyEight is ending its live coverage of Illinois for the evening; thank you for joining us tonight.

Nate Silver

10:27 P.M. How Romney’s Illinois Victory Compares to McCain’s

Mitt Romney is on track to win Illinois fairly decisively, but how does his victory compare to Senator John McCain’s 2008 win in the Land of Lincoln? In 2008, Mr. McCain seemed to wrap up the nomination with a strong showing on Super Tuesday, when Illinois voted. He won 47. 5 percent of the Illinois vote. Mr. Romney currently has 47.1 percent.

Mr. Romney is doing somewhat better than Mr. McCain in Chicago and its suburbs, while Mr. McCain was stronger than Mr. Romney in the southern, more conservative region of the state.

Micah Cohen

10:07 P.M. Upstate/Downstate Update

Mitt Romney’s margin in Illinois has closed slightly as downstate parts of the state have caught up to the Chicago area in the share of the vote they are reporting; he now leads Rick Santorum by about 12 percentage points statewide.

Mr. Romney leads Mr. Santorum 55-28 in votes counted so far in the Chicago area, while Mr. Santorum leads 43-37 outside of it. Since downstate and Chicago have now reported a roughly equal proportion of their votes, Mr. Romney’s 12-point lead is a reasonably good guess at what the final margin will be.

Nate Silver

9:49 P.M. Gingrich Again Underachieving Polls in Illinois

The Republican candidate who has most frequently failed to live up to his polls on Election Day is Newt Gingrich, and that appears to be happening again tonight in Illinois.

Mr. Gingrich has just 7.5 percent of the vote counted thus far in Illinois, putting him in fourth place behind Ron Paul. Mr. Gingrich’s numbers may improve slightly since downstate Illinois has been slower to report its results than the Chicago area, but he will need a lot of help to break into the double digits.

Pre-election polls of Illinois, by contrast, had Mr. Gingrich getting 13 or 14 percent of the vote there.

Whether or not Mr. Gingrich officially exits the race at some point, voters may already be avoiding him out of fear that they would be wasting their votes.

Nate Silver

9:47 P.M. An Approximate Bellwether in Illinois, Kendall County

Illinois does not really have many “swing” counties, where the demographics do not present an inherent advantage to any one candidate. There’s the Chicago area that favors moderates, and there’s the rest of the state that favors more conservative candidates.

One county that comes close to being a bellwether is Kendall County( View on Map), and there the strength of Mr. Romney’s victory in Illinois is evident.

Kendall County is a mix of suburban and exurban communities, a little more affluent then more rural counties in Southern Illinois, but not extraor
dinarily so. It is in Kendall County that white-collar communities give way to blue-collar ones as you travel from east to west.

All else being equal, Mr. Romney might be slightly favored there. But with about half of precincts reporting results, he is beating Mr. Santorum in Kendall by 8 percentage points.

That’s not an overwhelming margin, but it’s too wide for Mr. Santorum if he planned to have any chance at a victory in Illinois.

Micah Cohen

9:30 P.M. Romney Up 19-0 in Ill. Delegate Count So Far

The Associated Press has already called the delegate race in a handful of Illinois Congressional districts, accounting for 19 delegates for Mitt Romney and none for Rick Santorum so far.

Mr. Santorum should eventually get on the board, but he is unlikely to run up his total very high. So far, only 11 of his delegates are ahead out of the 54 that the state will award tonight, although counting has been slow outside the Chicago area.

Nate Silver

9:19 P.M. Romney Tracking to 10-to-15 Point Win In Illinois

Mitt Romney leads Rick Santorum by a massive margin in votes counted in the Chicago area so far, with 56 percent of the vote to Mr. Santorum’s 27 percent.

Mr. Romney trails Mr. Santorum in the areas outside of Chicago, although more narrowly, with 37 percent of the vote to Mr. Santorum’s 44 percent.

If those percentages hold up and the Chicago area represents 55 percent of the eventual turnout, Mr. Romney would carry Illinois by about 12 percentage points statewide.

Mr. Santorum may be able to hold Mr. Romney to a single-digit victory if downstate votes represent a larger share of the turnout than projected by exit polls, or if he holds Mr. Romney’s results down in the more exurban parts of the Chicago area, which have been slower to report results than the closer-in suburbs.

Nate Silver

8:57 P.M. Romney Could Sweep Chicago-Area Delegates

The presidential preference ballot in Illinois is technically just a beauty contest. Delegates, instead, are directly elected by the voters in each of the Congressional districts there, although the ballot indicates to voters which candidate these delegates would support.

So far, 10 Congressional districts have reported a material amount of results in Illinois, all of them in the Chicago area. Mr. Romney’s delegates lead the race in each one of these districts, which would account for 28 delegates total.

Two Chicago-area districts have been slow to report any returns, as have all of the districts in downstate Illinois.

Nate Silver

8:41 P.M. When “Downstate” Illinois Won

The disparity in the voting tendencies of Chicagoland (the city and its suburbs) and the rest of Illinois has its origins in the 19th century, when settlers from Northeastern states moved into Illinois’s northern counties and settlers from Southern states moved into the state’s southern counties.

If Mitt Romney wins the Illinois primary, it will likely mean that votes from the white-collar, suburban “collar” counties around Chicago outnumbered votes from the more culturally conservative voters in Southern Illinois.

In other words, turnout will have made the difference. But Chicagoland hasn’t always prevailed in this battle. In 1980, the candidate of “downstate” Illinois, Ronald Reagan, won the state despite moderate Illinois Rep. John B. Anderson beating him in Cook County (Chicago) and Lake County. They ran about even in DuPage County.

Micah Cohen

8:40 P.M. Romney Playing Well in Peoria

Illinois’s vote-counting is likely to be slow tonight, but one positive sign for Mitt Romney is that he is showing a few pockets of strength in more urban downstate communities, even though Rick Santorum is likely to carry the more rural parts of the state.

In particular, Mr. Romney has more than half the vote so far in Peoria County, out of about 1,200 votes that have been tallied there so far.

Nate Silver

8:26 P.M. Exit Polls Show Santorum Leading Outside Chicago Area

Although this is not a major surprise, it looks as though Mitt Romney’s performance in Illinois will not be sweeping enough to give him the plurality of the vote outside of Chicago and its suburbs, which would have allowed him to run up his delegate count.

According to CNN’s exit poll, Rick Santorum leads Mr. Romney by 19 points in southern Illinois, and by 6 points in northern Illinois outside of the Chicago area.

However, Mr. Romney led by roughly 20 points in Chicago and its suburbs, which it appears will account for more than half the turnout tonight. If the exit polls hold up, that should be enough to give him the overall advantage in the state.

Illinois’s Congressional districts are split roughly 12 to 6 between the Chicago area and downstate Illinois, although Mr. Santorum is not eligible to win delegates in one downstate district, the 15th, because he failed to collect enough signatures to get his delegates on the ballot there.

Nate Silver

8:14 P.M. Illinois Is Not a “Must-Win” For Romney

Although early exit polls show Mitt Romney with a solid lead in Illinois, a narrow loss there would still leave his campaign in relatively good shape. In fact, if the term “must-win” is applied to Illinois, it is probably more appropriate in regard to Rick Santorum.

According to an analysis that I conducted earlier this month, a path in which Mr. Santorum narrowly carried Illinois would still leave him considerably short of the benchmarks he needs to hit to win the plurality of delegates (winning a majority of delegates is almost out of the question at this point). To win a delegate plurality, Mr. Santorum would potentially need to win states like California, Maryland or Oregon where the demographics are even more challenging to him than they are in Illinois.

Nate Silver

7:59 P.M. Santorum Leads in Louisiana Polls

The next stop on the Republican primary calendar is Louisiana, which votes on Saturday. If Mitt Romney is looking for a knockout blow there, he might not find it.

A poll released today by Magellan Strategies, a Republican polling firm that is unaligned in the G.O.P. nomination race, gave Rick Santorum a 13-point lead over Mr. Romney there, with Mr. Gingrich 16 points behind Mr. Santorum and in third place. Mr. Santorum had also led an earlier poll from GCR & Associates, which had been conducted prior to his victories in Alabama and Mississippi.

If Mr. Romney wins by a clear margin in Illinois tonight, it is possible that he could get some momentum heading into Louisiana. But momentum has generally been fleeting in the G.O.P. race, and polls in states with large numbers of evangelicals have tended to underestimate Mr. Santorum’s strength.

Nate Silver

7:48 P.M. One-Third of Illinois Voters Made a Late Decision

Although Mitt Romney has pulled well ahead in polls over the course of the last week, the notion that Illinois was up for grabs has some support in the exit poll conducted today.

According to the exit poll, 32 percent of Illinois votes decided whom to vote for either just today or in the last few days. While that is not a spectacularly high figure, it is larger than in most other recent states.

Nate Silver

7:33 P.M. Chicagoland Suburban Turnout Up From 2008

According to early-stage exit polls of the Illinois Republican primary, 58 percent of the turnout is in the Chicago area — most of it in the five “collar counties” that surround Cook County and the city of Chicago.

That fraction is modestly higher than in other recent primaries; 53 percent of the turnout in the 2008 Republican primary came from the Chicago area, for instance.

Turnout estimates from early-stage exit polls can sometimes be crude, but this is a good early sign for Mitt Romney, who is expected to perform well in the suburbs. Rick Santorum might have been hoping for a more even split of the vote between the Chicago area and downstate.

Nate Silver

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.