Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States
By Geoff Pallay
Praise or blame is extended to political parties for the economic, educational, health and other quality of life outcomes that result from the policies those parties enact into law. To better understand which political party enjoys power in each of the states, Ballotpedia has analyzed state government control from 1992-2013 using the concept of a "partisan trifecta." A partisan trifecta is defined as when a state's governorship and legislative chambers are controlled by the same political party.
The two major political parties claim that their policies will lead to better outcomes. What does the data show?
At Ballotpedia, we explored these issues in a three-part study, Who Runs the States.
- Part One, published in May 2013, examined partisan control of state government from 1992-2013.
- Part Two, published in July 2013, established a State Quality of Life Index (SQLI), aggregating a variety of existing state indices into one measurement.
- Part Three, published in March 2014, overlaid the two reports, looking for trends and correlations.
Part One: Partisanship
Partisanship of the 50 states between 1992-2013
- To read the full report in PDF form, click here.
Ballotpedia's analysis of partisan affiliation of each of the 50 states has seven sections. A separate page is devoted to each of the seven sections; click on the relevant title below to access that section.
- Partisan Control of Governorships from 1992-2013
- Partisan Control of State Legislatures from 1992-2013
- State Government Trifectas from 1992-2013
- Dramatic changes in partisanship from the first 11 years to the last 11 years
- Overall Partisan Control: Bright, Medium and Soft States
- Year-to-Year Changes in State Partisan Control
- Partisan Trifectas at Odds with Presidential Election Patterns
Some states are characterized as "red" and others as "blue". This characterization is typically based on how the state’s electorate voted in the most recent presidential election. Here, we propose an alternative method of identifying the partisan dispositions of states. We do this by looking for "partisan trifectas": instances where a state elects the same party to the Office of Governor as it does to control of its two legislative chambers.
The "partisan trifecta" analysis puts seven states in a different partisan column than the presidential vote analysis does: In 2012 voters in six states with Republican trifectas (Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin) cast their ballot for President Obama. West Virginia on the other hand voted Republican for president while maintaining a Democratic trifecta for its state government.
We also studied the partisan breakdown of the executive and legislative branches of state government from 1992 to 2013. The partisan trifecta analysis over this period shows a notable trend toward one-party control of state governments. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 states had trifectas while 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states have divided governments, while single-party trifectas hold sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years we studied. The number of states with trifectas doubled between 1992 and 2013.
The partisan trifecta analysis also identifies six states that have experienced dramatic changes in partisan state government control from the first 11 years of the study to the last 11 years of the study: 3 states that moved decisively from Republican control to Democratic control (Colorado, Illinois, and New Jersey) and three states that moved decisively in the other direction (Georgia, Missouri, and Texas). Studying the partisan composition of state governments as we do also allows a clean way to assess whether a state is "moving red" or "moving blue". We've identified 8 states that are clearly "moving blue" over the 22-year period and 8 states that are clearly "moving red".
Finally, our review of partisan control of state governments from 1992 through 2013 provides a superior way of assessing just how "red" or "blue" a state is. Is a state "bright blue", "medium blue" or "soft blue"? Is a state "bright red", "medium red" or "soft red"? To the extent that pundits, journalists or members of the voting public want to praise or blame political parties for the real-world economic, educational, health or other quality-of-life outcomes in a particular state, the degree of "redness" or "blueness" of that state’s partisan composition may be relevant. This report is Part One of a three-part study. Part Two aggregates a variety of state ranking indices to create a quality of life index for the 50 states. Part Three overlays the partisanship data with the quality of life index.
The chart below shows the years when a state had (or has) a partisan trifecta. The existence of a partisan trifecta is indicated by a bright blue column or a bright red column. Light red and light blue cells indicate times when a chamber (or a governorship) was controlled by one party, but without an overall trifecta.
Trifectas compared to presidential voting
The chart below compares how a state voted in presidential elections (for 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012) compared to how the state voted for the Office of Governor, and for state senate and state house. This way of visualizing the data allows readers to quickly spot times when the presidential vote was at variance with the votes for the other offices.
Part Two: State Quality of Life Index (SQLI)
- To read the full report in PDF form, click here.
There are six sections in this report. A separate page is devoted to each of the six sections; click on the relevant title below to access that section.
- About the Index
- Overall Rankings
- Dramatic Changes from 1st Half to 2nd Half
- Individual Indicators
When it comes to quality of life, what's the best state?
A number of organizations have tackled that question, often focusing on just one way to think about which states are better and which states are worse: level of employment, health status, educational attainment, business climate, poverty rates and so on.
This study aggregates 19 different indices into one overall State Quality of Life Index (SQLI). Our goal was to get a big picture "quality of life" rating of each state relative to all 50 states. In our study, we used 236 individual datasets from 19 different indices covering the years 1992 to 2012.
The state with the highest aggregate ranking during the 21-year period was New Hampshire. The worst performing state in our study was Mississippi. Minnesota finished 2nd overall and placed in the top five in every year of the study. Conversely, only Mississippi and West Virginia finished in the bottom five every year from 1992-2012. One state -- Nevada -- placed one year in the top five (2005) as well as one year in the bottom five (2012).
Our index produced year-by-year average rankings, as well as an overall SQLI ranking for each state relative to the other 49 states over the entire course of the study. These rankings allowed us to look at which states were trending better and which were displaying poorer performances during the study period.
The three states that experienced the greatest improvement from 1992 to 2012 were Texas, North Carolina and North Dakota. The three states that saw the biggest decline in their rankings from start to finish were Nevada, Connecticut and Illinois.
In Part One of our "Who Runs the States" report, we analyzed which party (Republican or Democratic) controlled the levers of state government in each state over the years 1992-2013. Matching our SQLI with the partisanship data in Part Three of our report series will allow us to identify trends relating to state government control and outcomes for residents. Is there any correlation between states trending better in SQLI and states trending toward one party? These results will be examined in Part Three of our study.
Part Three: Overlaying Partisanship and (SQLI)
Politicians routinely claim that their policies produce better economic outcomes for their constituents, yet these claims are rarely tested empirically. This study investigates these claims by analyzing selected economic measures and comparing party control of state governments over time. The data show that states with Republican control are correlated with higher levels of wellbeing and economic outcomes, followed closely by states under divided government.
This report is the third installment in a three-part study. In Part One, we considered partisan control of state governments from over the period 1992-2013 and identified eight states that demonstrated a shift of more than 40 percent in one direction or the other regarding partisanship. We looked for examples where one party controlled the three main levers of state government, because these “trifecta” years presumably provided a party an opportunity to enact its policies with little opposition. Three states demonstrated movements toward becoming more Democratic while five shifted more Republican. Those eight states were:
- More Democratic: Colorado, Illinois and New Jersey
- More Republican: Florida, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas
In Part Two, we aggregated selected economic and social measures into a “State Quality of Life Index (SQLI), that included measures such as unemployment rate and personal income per capita. For this study, we selected 19 state comparison indexes to combine into our aggregate index. Each of the 19 state comparison indexes we chose tries to capture a part of what it would mean for one state to have a relatively higher performance than other states. We calculated our quality-of-life index by equally weighting all of our indicators for which we had data for a given year and then giving each state an annual rank from 1 to 50 (1 being the highest relative to standard of living and 50 being the lowest). To view the full dataset, visit this spreadsheet.
This study investigates how partisan control affects a state’s economic performance. We ask: Do state economies perform better (and do people enjoy greater quality of life) when one political party controls all of state government, or when control is divided?
Furthermore, for divided governments, does it matter how they’re divided? Do states perform better when they have Republican legislatures and a Democratic governor, or vice versa; or is there no difference in economic performance as long as the state government is divided?
To answer these questions, we consider the trend of individual state economic performance data with the break-down of partisan control of state government. This report includes our methodology and a selection of tables in the appendix.
- Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Part One: State Partisanship
- Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Part Two: State Quality of life Index (SQLI)
- Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Part Three: Overlaying State Partisanship and State Quality of Life (SQLI)
- Part 1 Full report PDF
- Part 2 Full report PDF
- Part 3 Full report PDF
- State government trifectas
- Nebraska has a nonpartisan state legislature. For the purposes of this study, we did not include Nebraska in the total counts, hence, a total of 49 states.