Heading into next month's primary election, Republicans in Illinois are more unified on pocketbook concerns but remain divided on social issues — a split accentuated along geographic and ideological lines.
Republicans don't agree on same-sex marriage. They don't want the state's temporary income-tax increase to continue next year, but are pessimistic that even electing a Republican governor will change that. They think home-state President Barack Obama's signature health care law should be repealed and feel the minimum wage should stay the same.
That picture of what it means to be an Illinois Republican in 2014 emerged in a Tribune/WGN-TV telephone poll featuring live interviews of 600 GOP voters from Feb. 5-8. The state GOP controlled the governor's mansion from 1977 to 2003, only to implode amid scandal and wander in the political wilderness ever since. The loss of a power base has seen the party's once-dominant moderate faction give way to a more pronounced rightward tilt as Illinois has become more Democratic controlled and Chicago-centric.
- VIDEO: Video: Tribune's Rick Pearson discusses poll
- VIDEO: Video: Same-sex marriage still divides GOP Illinois voters
- GRAPHIC: Republican voters' opinion on key laws
- Photos: Candidates for Illinois governor in 2014
- Thomas Wysoglad
Bolingbrook, IL, USA
Hinsdale, IL, USA
Princeton, IL 61356, USA
Winnetka, IL, USA
Bloomington, IL, USA
"It's not a very promising" landscape for Republicans, said Paul Warda, 66, a retired accountant from Lombard who lives in what once was the state's staunchest GOP bastion — DuPage County. "Republicans keep shooting themselves in the foot in their campaigns."
The poll results illustrated one example of the ongoing split over social issues within Republican ranks: the state's new same-sex marriage law, which was approved in November with three supportive Republican House members. Two of them face conservative primary challenges for re-election. The third, former House GOP leader Tom Cross, is running for state treasurer with nominal opposition in a low-key race.
The statewide Tribune poll showed that 60 percent of Republican primary voters want to see the same-sex marriage law repealed. Another 34 percent said the law should be allowed to stand when it takes effect June 1.
But it's a different picture in the six-county Chicago area. Republican voters in the city and suburbs are split, with 49 percent favoring repeal and 45 percent saying it should be left alone.
Thomas Wysoglad, 72, a retired federal facilities manager from southwest suburban Bolingbrook, said the same-sex marriage law should stand.
"I believe in equal rights," he said, adding that a later job in retail exposed him to a diversity of people.
"I don't see any real negatives to recognizing same-sex marriage. I'm Catholic also," he said. "Times change."
Downstate, however, nearly three-fourths of Republicans said gay marriage rights should be rolled back.
Betty Ann Losey, 80, a retired deputy county clerk from Princeton in central Illinois, said she would like to see Illinois "get back to some conservative living," and that includes repealing the same-sex marriage law. "I'm a Christian, I'm against it and I don't think it should've been passed," Losey said.
Among Republicans calling themselves moderates — 29 percent of the sample — 53 percent said the law should stand compared to 42 percent who want it to be repealed. But nearly seven in 10 conservatives polled want the law taken off the books, even though the four Republicans running for governor have said a repeal is not something they foresee happening.
GOP voters are more unified in saying the Democratic-passed state income tax increase should start to drop off as scheduled in January 2015. If allowed to expire, the tax rollback will decrease state revenues by more than $4 billion — or more than 10 percent of the state's general revenue — at a time when Illinois government remains plagued by billions of dollars in unpaid bills and accumulated debt.
Republican governor candidates Bruce Rauner, an equity investor from Winnetka, and state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington have pledged to allow the tax rollback to proceed. State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa have said the tax hike may need to be extended while a reform of the entire tax code gets underway.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed the tax hike into law and is seeking re-election, hasn't said whether the increase should be extended and has delayed his annual budget message to lawmakers until after the primary elections.
Statewide, 63 percent of Republicans want the bulk of the tax to expire while 27 percent said it should be continued. Support for rolling back the tax extended across all demographic lines.
"All they did was increase the taxes to put more money in the coffers so they can spend it on whatever they feel like," said Michael Petersen, 58, a retired carpenter who lives in Carpentersville. Democrats, he said, "control everything in Springfield."
Petersen acknowledged a belief that no matter who is elected governor in November, the tax increase is likely to be extended past January — a view in line with 55 percent of the poll's respondents statewide. Only 31 percent said they believed the tax would be rolled back as scheduled. "I don't think it will (expire), but it sure ought to," Petersen said.
Like the GOP governor candidates, Republican voters also are split over the state's new public employee pension law — an effort to deal with a $100 billion unfunded pension liability that eats into state revenues and hurts Illinois' credit rating and its overall economy. The constitutionality of the new law is being challenged in court.