News Bureau | University of Illinois

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign logo


2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008
Email to a friend envelope icon for send to a friend

Poll: Most still undecided about constitutional convention for Illinois


Brian Gaines
Click photo to enlarge
University of Illinois Photo
Political scientist Brian Gaines conducted a late January poll and found that most Illinoisans are undecided about a constitutional convention.

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Support is lagging for Illinois’ first constitutional convention in four decades, but could get a boost from growing unrest over political in-fighting that many citizens fear has paralyzed state government, according to a new University of Illinois poll.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents in the Institute of Government and Public Affairs survey support a convention to draft a new state constitution, well short of the majority needed when the question goes to voters in the Nov. 4 election.

But with 43 percent still undecided – coupled with strong support for reforms such as a California-style recall for top state officials – there’s plenty of room to swing the balance, said Brian Gaines, an IGPA political science professor who coordinated the late January poll of nearly 1,000 Illinois adults.

“Given how little discussion we’ve had in the media and in general, it’s no big surprise that most people don’t know if they want a convention,” Gaines said. “But I think if someone tries to build a case for a convention, there’s a fairly receptive public. People don’t seem to think our current constitution is working great.”

He says public dissatisfaction with state government is reflected in the poll, which netted more than 70 percent support for both term limits and a recent recall push aimed at Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose leadership style has been blamed for statehouse gridlock.

“In the last year, more and more people who don’t care about politics or government in general have caught on that there’s something wrong in Springfield,” Gaines said. “The Democrats control both houses and the governorship, yet the major political figures seem to be constantly at loggerheads and agree on nothing.”

Recall, term limits and other reforms could be considered if voters authorize a convention to review the state’s 1970 constitution. Delegates appointed by the Legislature would draft a new constitution, which then would go to voters for approval.

Under Illinois law, voters are asked every 20 years whether to convene a constitutional convention. The move was soundly rejected in the last vote in 1988, with 19 percent backing a convention and 58 percent opposing it. Nearly 23 percent of voters skipped the question completely.

Fanning interest in a constitutional convention is tough because few outside of political circles are familiar with state constitutions, Gaines said. The poll also shows people are skeptical that a convention would do any good, fearing it would be dominated by incumbent politicians and special interests who would resist meaningful change.

Gaines predicts the proposal will fail again this fall unless a high-profile official such as Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, who led a successful 1980 campaign that reduced the size of the Illinois House of Representatives, launches a push soon.

“In the end, there has to be a Pat Quinn figure who’s pretty good at whipping up a crowd who seizes on the idea, using issues like recall and term limits and telling people this is how to get them,” Gaines said.

“If nobody has touched it by August, I think it will be too late,” he said. “There’s no way that you can get people to think about it and make a decision that quickly when there’s a presidential election, a war and possibly a recession overshadowing it.”

Editor’s note: To contact Brian Gaines, call 217-333-4367; e-mail