Written by Sydney Beckham

On Tuesday, February 28, the city of Chicago will either elect their next Mayor or send two candidates into a runoff election. The incumbent candidate, Lori Lightfoot (D), was elected in 2019 after winning in the general runoff election. Since taking office, Lightfoot has received criticism about policing and crime within the city. There are currently nine total candidates challenging Lightfoot in this election, five of those candidates have spent over $1M on advertisements.  According to recent polls, Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, may be a frontrunner in the race. Lightfoot and Congressman Jesús García (IL 04) are also top candidates in the Chicago mayoral race

The competitive and expensive Chicago Mayoral race has seen a total of $19.9M spent on advertisements in the Chicago market. Five candidates have made up 97% of total election spending.


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The top spender in the election is Lightfoot, with $5.6M spent on advertisements. Paul Vallas and Willie Wilson have both spent about $4M, while Brandon Johnson, a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, has spent $2.9M. Congressman García has spent $2.8M on ads. The vast majority of spending reservations in this Mayoral election have come from candidates, as only two issue groups have spent on advertisements. The Chicago Leadership Committee spent $100K on ads supporting Vallas, and New Leadership for Chicago PAC spent $50K on ads supporting García.

 Advertisement messaging in this election has focused on topics including crime, education, and taxation. The most frequent messaging topic in ads is crime and each candidate’s plan to create a safer Chicago. In an ad from Paul Vallas, he says he plans to put more police on the streets and wants to confront violence to make the city safer.  García, Johnson, and Wilson had similar messaging in their ads. Lightfoot also featured ads about crime, focusing on how she has put more police on the streets and has taken guns off the streets during her time as Mayor. Many ads from Lightfoot’s campaign were attack ads, especially targeting Jesús García. One ad by Lightfoot claims he “cozies up to crypto crooks and indicted politicians” and that he will bring back a rigged system as Mayor. Another ad from Lightfoot attacks García claiming he is a sellout, and calls Brandon Johnson a radical who wants to implement “damaging taxes” and defund the police. 

 Looking at 2019 Chicago Mayoral general election spending compared to 2023, we see nearly a $4M increase in total ad spending. In 2019, $3M total was spent in the runoff.  The increase in 2023 spending may signal a more competitive race. Interestingly, there is also a significant increase in Lori Lightfoot’s advertisement spending when comparing her first election in 2019. As mentioned previously, Lightfoot has spent $5.6M on ads for 2023. In the 2019 Chicago Mayor general, she only spent $520K. Since no candidate received a majority of votes during the 2019 general election, Lightfoot was one of two candidates who advanced to the runoff election, where she spent $2.1M on advertisements. Lightfoot’s ad spending in 2023 is more than double what she spent in the 2019 Chicago Mayor general runoff. Chart, funnel chart

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In 2019, Paul Vallas and Willie Wilson also ran for Chicago Mayor. Their ad spending was relatively low; Vallas spent $27K and Wilson spent $102K. In the current election, they have both spent $4M. As election day nears, nine candidates are on the ballot trying to get a majority vote, potentially putting Lightfoot’s reelection bid at risk. With the amount of candidates running, it is probable a runoff election will take place in April. As of now, some polls predict Lightfoot may not make the runoff. Based on spending in the 2019 runoff, the potential 2023 runoff will likely see significant spending. 

Interested in checking out another deep dive? Check out our 2022 Ohio Congressional elections deep dive blog.

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