So, there is a Wikipedia list which shows you the current political party strength in every state in these United States. I downloaded this into a Jupyter notebook today and did some Python magic on it this morning to start to understand what is really going on with the partisan spread in the United States.
First, for historical background it is really new that no matter which state you live in, the parties will be very aligned.
OK, to prevent this from being a giant historical essay, let’s start by doing some real analysis into the current patterns in the United States.
This map shows the current state level Trifectas in the United States. As you can see from the map above, most trifectas are currently held by Republicans. This is a very different story from before the 2010 census.
But what this simply colored map doesn’t show are HOW these Trifectas are formed. Breaking this down further, if we show only states which have total alignment (a trifecta and voted for the President of the same party in 2016) the map looks like this:
20 states do not have a split government representation when you take into account the partisan balance of both state legislatures, their governor, their Senators, their US Representatives, and how they voted for the President in the last election. There is one caveat to this, Nebraska has a technically non-partisan state legislature, so they should technically be colored red.
Every state in grey is a target for each party to expand their power.
Republicans are one step away from taking over the following states in grey:
- Alabama (US Senate)
- Alaska (State House)
- Iowa (2 seats in the US House)
- Kansas (Governor)
- Kentucky (Governor)
- Louisiana (Governor)
- North Carolina (Governor)
- Ohio (US Senate)
- West Virginia (US Senate)
Democrats are one step away from taking over the following states in grey:
- Colorado (US Senate)
- Maine (US Senate, although Angus King is technically Independent, he caucuses with the Democrats)
- Maryland (Governor)
- Massachusetts (Governor)
- Minnesota (2 seats in the State Senate)
- New Hampshire (Governor)
- Vermont (Governor, although Bernie Sanders is technically Independent, he caucuses with the Democrats)
If all of these changes occur, our map will look like this:
The remaining 5 states are the ones which are by this count the most swingy of them all.
Arizona and Pennsylvania have the closest margins in their state legislatures which makes them relatively easy for the Democrats to gain control over redistricting. All that needs to happen than in Arizona is to win the Gubernatorial election in 2022 and the Democrats will have a trifecta there. In Pennsylvania we need to pick up 4 seats in the Senate and 9 seats in the House (out of a very large State House), so these are very likely to be added to the list of Democratic trifectas in the next two and a half years if people turn out.
Michigan has a wider margin, particularly in the State Senate, but it is theoretically possible for the Democrats to win back the State House where they only need 4 more seats, and with Gretchen Whitmer as governor it is very likely that the map will be at least balanced in 2022 which means that a Democratic trifecta in Michigan in 2023 is very likely.
In Montana the Republicans are two steps away from total domination, but they have a popular moderate Democratic senator, so it is very likely that Montana will continue to not be dominated for a while.
In Wisconsin it is a similar story to Michigan. We need to pick up one of the Senate seats, and 2 more House seats to dominate their congressional representation. With a Democratic governor the map in 2022 will be at least balanced, which means the Democrats have a high probability of getting complete control in Wisconsin over the next 2 years.
Now, it is totally possible that voters will continue their divided governments in these states as well, these are just how it looks for now.
There are very few states in the US right now with close state legislatures. If we look at the Presidential margins as well we see that the only three states which do not have divided government which saw no candidate take an outright majority in the 2016 Presidential election were North Carolina and Florida.
North Carolina will have a tight US Senate election this year, the polls put both Thom Tills and Cal Cunningham in a dead heat. PaddyPower betting doesn’t favor either party in winning the Presidential election either. Roy Cooper is expected to win his election this year, which will mean that North Carolina will likely have a more balanced state legislature and US House map this time around. Assuming these voters vote down ballot as well, it might be possible to pick up a few more seats in the State legislature where we need 4 in the Senate and 5 in the House to have a tie. There were 9 different races which Republicans won by less than 10% in 2016, and with the right candidates this time around, combined with the president being unpopular, it is definitely possible that Democrats could take one or both houses, forcing the Republicans to have a less gerrymandered map. This will have massive implications nationally because North Carolina has 13 seats in the House, so getting a fair map in North Carolina is important in maintaining control of the US House of Representatives.
Florida’s size makes it necessary to discuss. Democrats need 4 seats to take over the State Senate (out of 40 seats), and significantly more in the States House. It is the same story for Florida as with North Carolina, but even more so because it has as many house seats as New York. Given that Trump failed to get a majority, it is very much in play. The gubernatorial election in 2022 will be very important to watch since Ron DeSantis won by only 33,000 votes, or .4% of the people who voted. But, since Democrats lost in 2018 I fully expect that the State legislature and US House districts will be fully gerrymandered after this year’s census. The 2030 Gubernatorial election is going to be very important.
At first glance, Iowa is very strongly Republican right now, but this wasn’t the case 10 years ago. Kim Reynolds won the election by 50.3% of the vote in 2018 and followed up by passing one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the United States. Given that the Iowa PVI is only R+3 I believe it is possible to run the right candidate against her to at least take back the Governorship in 2022. Ohio is a similar story, given that Mike DeWine won with only 50.4% of the vote. If the Democrats are able to take back the governorship hopefully we can bring the state to court to get a more fair legislative boundary map some time around 2025.
Georgia is the final state I am going to look at in this list. Stacey Abrams almost won in 2018, and if enough people turn out to vote in 2022 it is possible that Georgia could have a Democratic governor in 2023. There needs to be better oversight of our elections because of what happened in 2018 with the Governors race, ideally foreign observers. Georgia allows anyone to register to vote absentee for any reason, and the ticket to winning the Governors race in 2022 is to get as many people registered to vote absentee as fast as possible. This gets around the voter ID laws which are probably unconstitutional, and ensures everyone can have their voice count.
Based on all of this, my final prediction for what state level government trifectas will look like in 2023 as a best case scenario for Democrats is as follows:
This is assuming Democrats only see gains, and we pick up the governorships which Republicans won by under 5 points:
- New Hampshire
- South Dakota
We pick up Senate seats in states which voted for Clinton and have a Republican Senator:
We pick up State Senates where the margin is under 5%:
We pick up State Houses where the margin is under 5%:
- North Carolina
We also win every state in the Presidential election which Clinton lost by under 5%:
- North Carolina
- Nebraska, 2nd district
This will create the following most probable best case scenario for the Democrats:
If everything possible goes right for the Republicans, the best case scenario for 2023 they can reasonably hope for using he same criteria will be:
They can pick up the following governorships:
- North Carolina
They pick up Senate seats in states which voted for Trump and have a Democratic Senator:
- West Virginia
They pick up State Senates where the margin is less than 5%:
There are no Democratically controlled State Houses where the margin is less than 5%.
They pick up states where Clinton won with a margin of victory under 5%.:
- New Hampshire
This will create the most probable best case scenario for the Republican Party:
Now there are many reasons why this unlikely. Trump is polling below 50%, most betting pools are betting that Joe Biden will win, COVID-19 is showing the quality of Republican leadership and if Republicans are disproportionately affected due to the patterns of which states are opening up early, than this will definitely reduce the number of people voting for Republicans in November.
This bring us to one final map, which is where these two maps agree:
This map makes it pretty clear that most Americans live in a State which has at least one major partisan control (legislature, governor, senators, or Presidential votes) at risk in this current election cycle based on previous election trends.
The truth in a few years will likely be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but the takeaway from this I have is that nothing is written in stone, and history is what we make it. Every single person needs to vote. The majority of Americans are liberal according to issue based opinion polls, and we deserve to have a government which reflects these values. Almost everyone lives somewhere where either their governor, representative (which I did not examine in this post), state legislature, senator, or their votes for the Electoral College are truly up for grabs.
This map also makes one error, which I am aware of. It makes Washington (my home) look like a safe state. This appears to be true, but in my data if you take an average of the partisan split in each house Washington is next to Montana in terms of how closely divided our legislature is. In fact, we are one of only 11 states where both houses have a margin of under 10% of the seats. In fact, 21 states in total have at least one chamber with a 10% majority or less. If we remove these states from our “safe state” map to get only the ultra safe states the map looks like this:
These are the only states where the following criteria are true:
- The margin of victory for President was over 5%
- The party in power of both state legislature chambers has a margin of over 10% of the seats
- The governor won their last race by at least a 5% margin
- Both Senate seats are held by the same party
- Only one party dominated both houses of the Legislature, controls the governorship, and has both seats in the Senate
This is the reality of American politics today. Very few states are completely safe in every possible way. Everyone needs to vote, and you need to vote for every race on your ballot. Even if you live in a state legislative district considered safe, you should still vote, because it can still make a difference. Michigan voted for the Democrats every Presidential election from 1988-2012, but voted for Trump in 2016. The Washington State Legislature was divided for most of the 2010s, but a surge in turnout in 2018 gave the Democrats a large majority which has allowed them to pass legislation on a wide variety of issues.
Getting great people into state legislatures allows them to pass great bills which can solve real problems which effect your community. With a great slate of state legislators, it becomes much easier to win races for Congress and to have fantastic governors. We can have excellent mayors who can fight homelessness and expand transit. With these great leaders at all levels of our democracy we can then get phenomenal Presidents who can expand access to health care, increase the number of Americans who can go to college, and solve our looming retirement crisis which will only grow as long as we don’t implement solutions.
But this will only happen if you vote for your state legislator. Great state legislators will only get elected if you volunteer to phone bank in your legislative district to get great leaders into positions of power where they can make our world a better place. That is the only way that we can get great Senators and Governors, which is the only way we will elect great Presidents. It will only happen if you get involved in the politics of your legislative district today.