2012 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index
- To know which states have the most competitive electoral environment and which states have the least competitive electoral environments in 2012.
- To collect data about the overall competitiveness of the 2012 state legislative elections. In 2010, "when we first started building state-by-state lists of state legislative candidates, we were surprised at the number of seats where there was minimal or no competition. It was especially surprising because many observers on the national level regard 2010 as a highly-competitive election environment." The picture that emerged as we continued our study suggests that this is not the case at the level of state legislative elections, despite a relatively high degree of voter discontent. Our guess is that even many highly-engaged or newly-engaged political activists are unaware of the opportunities that exist for expanded electoral competitiveness at the level of state legislative elections. These observations led us to develop and present an empirical study of this phenomenon.
- To develop a Competitiveness Index to be used in future years, so that political observers can assess the ebb and flow of state legislative election competitiveness over time.
In 1,227 (20.4%) of the 6,015 seats up for election in 2012, the incumbent did not run for re-election, either because he or she voluntarily chose not to run again, or because of term limits.
In 4,783 (79.5%) of the 6,015 seats up for election in 2012, the incumbent ran for re-election.
There were 1,277 (21.2%) seats up for election in 2012 where an incumbent did not run for that seat.
- In 2012, redistricting often times created open districts that might not have been in a non-redistricting year.
Incumbents in primaries
1,175 incumbents faced a primary challenger in 2012.
Since 4,783 incumbents ran for re-election in 2012, that means that only 24.6% of them faced a primary challenger.
3,608 incumbents (75.4%) that ran for re-election in 2012 had no primary challenger.
Major party candidates with no competition
There are 1,972 state senators and 5,411 state representatives. Heading into the election, there were only 77 total third party legislators out of 7,383 total state legislators. Of those 77, 49 were Nebraska State Senators, where all candidates must run as a non-partisan. Thus, a major party candidate is virtually guaranteed election when facing third parties.
- In 503 (38.7%) of the 1,301 senate seats up for election, there was only one major party candidate running for election
- In 1,803 (38.3%) of the 4,714 house seats up for election, there was only one major party candidate running for election
- Given that major party candidates win nearly 100% of the time, a candidate running without any major party opposition is essentially assured election -- even if there are third party candidates.
- There was only one major party candidate in 2,206 (38.3%) of the 6,015 seats up for election in 2012.
- There was more than one major party candidate in 3,709 (61.7%) of the 6,015 seats up for election in 2012.
Using the official primary candidate lists from each state, staff members analyzed each district's race to look for the following circumstances:
- No incumbent running with only one candidate
- No incumbent running with a contested primary
- Incumbent is running uncontested
- Incumbent is running in a contested primary
- No candidate has declared
General election competitiveness
Using the official candidate lists from each state, staff members analyzed each district's race to look for the following circumstances:
- Incumbent is not running
- Only one major party candidate in the general election
After the raw data was obtained, our staff analyzed the states to determine if there was noticeable partisan difference as well as the difference between states with and without term limits.
On September 14, 2012, Joseph Perkins from CalWatchdog published an article stating that Ballotpedia's analysis was "based on rather simplistic criteria." Some states, such as California, employ a top-two primary system. In top-two states, two candidates can advance to the general election. This, Perkins argues can skew the competitiveness results. As of 2012, other top-two states include Louisiana and Washington. Perkins' critique can be viewed here. Specific to California, the state ranked as the most competitive in Ballotpedia's 2012 analysis, Perkins' notes that the state is dominated by the Democratic party. Both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats. The Governor, Jerry Brown, is also a Democrat. His article also cites a report from the Public Policy Institute of California which concluded that while California's electoral reforms have encouraged higher turnover and more fresh faces on the ballot, significant shifts to the status quo have yet to be felt in the state.
- State legislative elections, 2012
- 2011 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index
- 2010 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index
- Proposition 121 is on the November 2012 ballot in Arizona. The measure would implement a top-two style open primary system.
- Public Policy Institute of California, "Test-driving California's Election Reforms," September 2012