Who Will Control the States in 2013?

The 2012 elections are still nearly six months away, but it’s not too early to begin to evaluate the likely impact of those elections on the partisan control of state governments. Although much can—and likely will—happen between now and November 6 to affect election outcomes, an analysis of the state legislative and gubernatorial landscape provides significant insight into the likely impact of the upcoming elections.

Wave after Wave?

Both 2008 and 2010 were considered “wave” elections. In 2008, at the national level, the electorate broke for the Democratic Party, and in 2010, it broke for the Republicans. Similar trends took place within state legislatures, with Democrats picking up a substantial number of state legislative seats in 2008 and Republicans countering in 2010. Looking at the partisan control of state governments, however, reveals a subtler trend.

Just prior to the 2008 elections, Democrats had full control—the Governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature—in 16 states. Republicans had control in 10 states. Control was split—either the Governor’s office or at least one chamber of the legislature was held by the opposition party—in 23 states.

Before the 2010 elections, and following the 2008 “wave” election, Democrats still controlled 16 states, Republican 9 states and 24 states were split. In other words, the 2008 election wave, despite resulting in additional Democratic legislators, didn’t substantially change party control of the levers of state government. A major driver of the relative stability at the state level in 2008 is the fact that only eleven states elect governors in presidential election years. Additionally, Republicans made gains in the 2009 elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

The 2010 elections truly represented a wave at the state level, with Republicans making major gains. Today, Democrats control 11 states, Republicans control 24 states and only 14 states have split partisan control of state government. Nebraska, whose legislature is officially nonpartisan, is functionally also under Republican control. Republicans cemented their hold in the South, with breakthrough gains in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and other states. They also picked up unlikely victories in states like Maine. Democrats, although faring poorly overall, took governorships from Republicans in traditional liberal/progressive strongholds including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota and Vermont. Without those victories, the overall numbers for Democrats would have been historically poor.

Current Partisan Control of State Governments

Republican Likely to Continue Recent Successes in 2012

On November 7, regardless of the outcome of the Presidential election, Republicans are likely to be happy with their results in the states.

Republicans are defending the Governor’s office in only three states—Indiana, North Dakota and Utah—and are highly likely to retain all three. A special election to recall Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker will be held June 5. Democrats are defending seats in Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. At least half of these states, and as many as six of them, are potential or likely Republican victories. If Republicans were to win in Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina they would add four states to their tally of full partisan control based on current legislative splits.

There are fifteen or so state legislative chambers that are narrowly divided or where control of the chamber is split (Alaska Senate, Oregon House and Virginia Senate). It is more difficult to project the outcome of state legislative elections so far in advance, but Republicans are likely to pick up seats in both Arkansas legislative chambers and Democrats are likely to rebound from losing both Maine legislative chambers in 2010.

The map above will likely be mostly unchanged following the 2012 elections. In the northeast, Maine will likely move from red to purple; New Hampshire may turn red. Moving south, North Carolina is likely to move to red and Arkansas to purple. There is an outside chance that West Virginia may turn purple as well. Heading west, Montana is likely to move to red, and Washington could move to purple.

Based on the current partisan splits and the states where gubernatorial elections are being held, Democrats don’t have many opportunities to make significant gains. Colorado and Minnesota may be the only states where they have a potential to gain full control. New York potentially could go to the Democrats as well, but most observers think that unlikely. We’ll know in just a few weeks whether Democrats are likely to make significant gains in Wisconsin.

As noted at the outset, there is plenty of time for major changes to occur before the November elections. At this point, however, 2012 is not shaping up to be another wave election, and Republicans are likely to hold or increase their lead in control of state governments.

About the Author

Joe Crosby, Principal
Joe Crosby is a principal with MultiState Associates, the nation's leading state and local government relations consultants. Joe is involved in all aspects of the firm’s efforts to help clients resolve the challenges they face in the state and local government arena, with a concentration on providing strategic counsel, identifying and deploying political assets, and advancing tax policy objectives. Prior to joining MultiState in 2011, Joe spent 11 years with the Council On State Taxation (COST). Joe is a nationally recognized expert on state and local business tax policy. In 2011, he was identified by State Tax Notes as the “single most influential person in state taxation” and named as the publication’s inaugural Person of the Year. Prior to his work with COST, Joe was national director of state legislative services for Ernst & Young LLP. He is past president of the State Government Affairs Council and served on the board of directors of the Washington Area State Relations Group. He earned his bachelor's degree in history from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and completed graduate course work in economic policy at American University in Washington.

2 Comments on "Who Will Control the States in 2013?"

  1. Don’t forget the fact that Republicans took control of many state legislatures at a fortuitous time. The redistricting process following the 2010 census gave them a chance to solidify their gains.

  2. Great article. It will be interesting to see how redistricting impacts the New Mexico elections. The new district configurations make it more of a challenge for many incumbents who now have to introduce themselves to the new constituents. The primary races are numerous with plenty of intra-party drama. How potent the more left and right leaning campaigns turn out to be is a big question.
    The House majority could go Republican by a thin margin and the Senate could get closer together but most likely will remain in Democrat hands. So probably whether or not there is more of a reddish or bluish tint at the end of the day it is probably purple we stay.

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