CHICAGO — The June 28 Illinois Republican gubernatorial primary is shaping up to be a two-man race between Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and State Sen. Darren Bailey of downstate Xenia. But with more than a third of voters still undecided, the contest is far from over.

A new WGN-TV/The Hill/Emerson College Polling survey of likely GOP primary voters shows Irvin leading the field with 24.1% support, followed by Bailey with 19.8%. Suburban businessman Gary Rabine is in third place with 7.8%, closely followed by venture capitalist Jessie Sullivan with 7.3%. Attorney Max Solomon and former state Senator Paul Schimpf are both trailing far behind with 2.3 % and 1.9% respectively.

With early voting set to begin across Illinois on May 19, a large group of voters is still up for grabs. About 36.9% of respondents say they are undecided about the top of the ticket.

On the campaign trail and in television ads, the candidates have been drawing contrasts on crime, taxes and corruption. But the economy is by far the number one concern for Republican voters who participated in this poll. Asked the most important issue facing Illinois, voters overwhelmingly choose the economy — jobs, inflation and taxes. Crime comes in a distant second (15.2%), while immigration (6.5%), COVID (4.3%), education (3.6), health care (4.7%) and the war in Ukraine (2.0%) fall even further on the list.

Bailey and Irvin still lead the field when respondents were asked which candidate would best manage the state’s economy — both hovering around 21%. Jesse Sullivan and Gary Rabine split the second largest group of respondents at around 9% each.

Irvin has sustained a months-long advertising blitz, backed by $45 million from Citadel founder and CEO, Ken Griffin. The campaign has highlighted Irvin’s crime-fighting credentials as a former prosecutor, and it seems to be influencing voters.

Thirty percent of likely voters in the GOP primary say Richard Irvin is best suited to tackle the issue of crime, followed by Bailey at 20%.  Again, many of those polled say they have not made up their mind yet — 33% of those polled were still undecided.

Another major story line in the race is the division of support among voters in urban and rural parts of Illinois. Richard Irvin holds a big lead over Bailey in urban/city areas, 32% to 10%.  

Bailey has defined his campaign as a grassroots effort, reaching supporters in their communities and through social media. That plan has succeeded with likely voters in rural areas, where Bailey beats Irvin 30% to 16%.

Voters who identify themselves as living in suburban areas are split more evenly — Irvin has a slight edge at 25%, with Bailey trailing closely behind at 20%.

The gubernatorial primary also has an education divide: Irvin leads Bailey among those polled with college or postgraduate degrees 30% to 17%. Bailey leads Irvin among those without a college degree 23% to 18%.

Former President Donald Trump remains a wild card. He has made endorsements in GOP primaries across the United States but hasn’t yet weighed in on the Republican race for Illinois Governor. About 57% percent of likely GOP primary voters say they are more likely to support a candidate if they’re endorsed by Trump.

Hoping to secure his stamp of approval, Darren Bailey recently visited the former president’s Mar-A-Lago estate.

Irvin has danced around questions about whether he wants Trump’s backing, or if he even voted for the former president. Still, Irvin leads with voters who are less likely to support a Trump-endorsed candidate with 26%. He also garners 33% of support with voters who say the former president’s endorsement would make no difference.

Abortion rights have been in the headlines, following a leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. Though Illinois law will keep abortion legal statewide despite a court ruling, likely GOP primary voters are split on their views on the topic.

Forty percent of Republican primary voters say abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is endangered. Eighteen percent say it should be illegal in all cases and 15% say it should be legal up to 20 weeks. Another 15% say legal in all cases and 13% say legal up to six weeks of pregnancy.

There is no frontrunner in the low-profile contest for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Sen. Tammy Duckworth. Every Republican hopeful is under 10% and almost 3 in 4 Republicans (72.4%) say they are undecided.

Peggy Hubbard comes out on top with 7%, followed by Bobby Piton at 6%, Kathy Salvi at 5%, Anthony Williams has 1.2% support and Jimmy Lee Tillman II rounds out the field with less than 1%.

Candidates respond

“This polling confirms what most Illinoisans have known for months; this primary election is a two-person race for the heart and soul of our Republican Party. The choice is clear between a conservative Republican like Darren Bailey and a career Democrat like Irvin. Darren Bailey has stood up for working families and taxpayers from the beginning, and Richard Irvin is a Pritzker-hugging, basement hiding puppet of the political elites who is afraid to debate Darren Bailey. Our grassroots movement will continue to roll as our campaign begins to punch back and set the record straight. We’re ready for the fight. Darren Bailey will win this primary and defeat Pritzker in November.” — spokesman for Darren Bailey

“After spending tens of millions of his benefactor’s money and nearly 40 percent of Illinois voters still undecided, its clear that Richard Irvin has failed miserably in convincing Republican voters he would be a good Governor.   Maybe it’s because they know he’s not really a Republican.”  — Gary Rabine

“JB Pritzker and his allies are funding Darren Bailey’s campaign because they know that Richard Irvin is Pritzker’s greatest threat in November.” — spokeswoman for Richard Irvin

The Emerson College Polling Illinois poll of Republican primary voters was conducted May 6-8, 2022. The Republican primary sample consisted of somewhat and very likely voters, n=1,000, with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3 percentage points. The data sets were weighted by gender, age, education, race, and region based on 2022 turnout modeling. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, ethnicity, and region carry with them higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using a cellphone sample of SMS-to-web, an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines, and an online panel provided by Amazon MTurk.