As American political divides currently sit in the suburbs, the tension between Chicago Democrats and suburban Democrats in Illinois is interesting to consider:
In adding suburbia to the Democratic base, it turned out, Madigan also created a party that would no longer tolerate his Chicago ward boss style of leadership.
“Suburbanites tend to be less enamored of machine politics,” said Christopher Z. Mooney, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “Machine politics is about one thing: getting jobs. Suburban voters tend to be more concerned about corruption. They’re a little better off,” and thus don’t need the government jobs political bosses can dole out…
While many suburban representatives had benefited from Madigan’s operation, the ComEd scandal marked the moment that “a limit had been reached,” Mooney said. “They felt that his usefulness was over. The fact that they were from the suburbs allowed them to have some cover. Madigan’s political tentacles are more effective in the city of Chicago or Cook County.”…
Suburbanites haven’t just changed the way politics is conducted within the Democratic Party, they’ve also made certain issues more important to the party. Abortion, for instance. In the 1980s, the Catholic Madigan declared himself “100% pro-life.” In 2019, he supported the Reproductive Health Act, which ensured that abortion will be legal in Illinois if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and declares that a “fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of this state.”
The explanations here suggest the changes in suburbs have had significant consequences for politics. As noted above, corruption turns off suburban voters – who often like the idea of more virtuous smaller local government – and there are more pro-choice suburban voters.
I could imagine several other factors involving suburbia that have influenced this change:
- The increasing suburban population compared to the population of Chicago. As a proportion of Illinois residents, there are more suburbanites than in the past. This does not necessarily guarantee changes toward what suburbanites want but it could be a factor.
- The suburbs have changed in demographic composition. There are now different kinds of suburban residents, including more racial and ethnic minorities and more lower-income residents. The whiter and wealthier suburbs still exist in places but so does more complex suburbia. The suburban voters today are not just more educated whites.
- While the comparison above is between Chicago style politics and suburban politics, I wonder how suburbanites view the big city more broadly as compared to the past. Are more suburbanites interested in life in denser communities with more cultural opportunities (even if they are in the suburbs)? How essential is Chicago to the region and state compared to all of the activity – business, cultural, civically – in the suburbs?