10 November 2008

State Races In 2008

Tim Storey, at the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures has prepared an interesting recap of the 2008 elections results at the state government level. Among the highlights (facts his, analysis mine):

State Legislatures

Democrats have a majority of state legislative seats. This has been the case for most of the period from the aftermath of the 1938 election to the aftermath of the current election. Democrats fell behind in 1948, and were tied in 1952 and from about 1998-2000. Democratic strength in state legislatures peaked around 1974 at almost 70%. Democrats now hold a majority of the seats, but well under 60% of them.

The Democratic share of state legislative seats in the South has fallen from a peak of 94% in the late 1950s, that had been steady since 1938 at least, to 53.5% after the 2008 election, a decline that has occurred steadily since, with the exception of a small boost for Democrats in the early 1970s.

Democrats have controlled state legislatures in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama since Reconstruction (despite the fact that the parties themselves have flipped their positions on the liberal to conservative scale at the national level in this time frame), which suggests that the Democratic party in these states may differ materially from the Democratic party nationally. In the South, only Arkansas and North Carolina have Democratic party controlled state legislatures and Democratic Governors. The fact that Obama lost handily in Arkansas and just barely won North Carolina, despite Democratic party control of state government, is notable. While not strictly in the South, West Virginia, where Democrats also control state government is also trending towards the Republican party.

The 2008 elections continued Democratic declines in Southern state legislatures. Republicans picked up a net six state legislative seats in the South, while Democrats picked up a net 38 state legislative seats in the East, 41 in the Midwest and 25 in the West. Republicans took control of state legislature in Tennessee and Oklahoma that previously had divided control.

Democrats took control of state legislatures in New York, Wisconsin and Nevada that were previously under divided control. In Ohio and Alaska, a Republican controlled legislatures are now under divided control.

The only state that voted for Obama in which Republicans control the state legislature after the 2008 election is Florida. Six states that voted for McCain have state legislatures controlled by Democrats (West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana).

Every state legislature in the Northeast, except Pennsylvania (which has divided control) is controlled by Democrats after this election. There are only three states in the Northeast with Republican Governors (Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island).


Republican Governors preside in every Gulf Coast state from Texas to South Carolina. Democratic Governors now preside in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Nevada, Idaho and Utah are the only states in the Mountain West with Republican Governors.

Divided Control Still The Norm

The Governorship and both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by the same party in only a few states. Democrats hold seventeen states. Republicans hold eight. Twenty four states have split control. Nebraska is theoretically split in control because its unicameral legislature is officially non-partisan, but in practice this state is also held by Republicans as most state legislators would be Republican if they declared a party affiliation.


Louisiana and Missouri are the only states that voted for McCain that are projected to lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 census. McCain's states are expected to gain a net eight seats in reapportionment.

North Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Oregon are the only states that voted for Obama that are projected to gain states in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 census. Obama's states are expected to lose eight states in reapportionment.

The Northeast and Midwest will lose twelve seats. The South will gain eight seats.


State legislative race results re-emphasize the notion from the federal elections in 2008 that we are seeing the continued progress of Republicans in the South, and their continued decline in the East. Reapportionment will encourage Republicans to stick to a strategy that cements their character as a Southern regional party.

But, Republicans are losing their stranglehold of the Mountain West and Alaska, even as they make progress in Appalachia and hold fast in the Great Plain states and in the Mormon dominated states of Utah and Idaho.

Also, the "New South" is beginning to emerge as a challenge to Republican hegemony. Virginia, lead by District of Columbia suburbs in Northern Virginia, seems on its way to joining Maryland in its Democratic political leanings.

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