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Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Partisanship Results, Overall Partisan Control: Bright, Medium and Soft States

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Who Runs the States

Main Report Pages
Main PagePart 1Partisanship InfographicPart 2Part 3

Partisanship Results Report (Part 1)
Executive SummaryState Partisanship AnalysisPartisan Control of GovernorshipsPartisan Control of State LegislaturesPartisan Control of State SenatesPartisan Control of State HousesState Government TrifectasOverall Partisan Control: Bright, Medium and Soft StatesChanges of Partisan Domination over 22 yearsYear-to-Year Changes in State Partisan ControlTrifectas and Presidential Election PatternsConclusionMethodologyAppendix AAppendix B

State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) Report (Part 2)
Executive SummaryState Quality of Life Index (SQLI)About the IndexOverall RankingsDramatic Changes from 1st Half to 2nd HalfIndividual IndicatorsMethodologyAppendices

Partisanship and (SQLI) Overlay Report (Part 3)
IntroductionComparing Partisanship and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI) RankingsDescription of the dataTrends and correlationsMethodologyKey Values for Fifty-State RegressionsAppendices
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.

This page contains the section of the report pertaining to the Overall Partisan Control: Bright, Medium and Soft states.

Overall Partisan Control: Bright, Medium and Soft states

Figure 15: Map depicting the percentage of time a political party controlled state government from 1992-2013

In order to dig deeper into the results, we wanted to identify the states that are most partisan. We tracked party control of each state’s governorship, state senate, and state house for each year, a total of 66 instances of party control for each state for the entire 22-year period. We calculated each state’s percentage of control by each party for the duration of the study (22 years) and then classified the states into the following three categories of partisanship using these percentages:

  • Bright blue and red states: Greater than 80 percent control by one party
  • Medium blue and red: 60 percent-80 percent control by one party
  • Soft states: Neither party reached 60 percent control

For example, Illinois had 43 instances of Democratic control (11 in the governorship, 12 in the state senate, and 20 in the state house) and 23 instances of Republican control (11 in the governorship, 10 in the state senate, and 2 in the state house). Because the Illinois government was more than 65 percent under Democratic control, we classified Illinois as a medium blue state. Additionally, we broke the data up into three groups: a) Full 22 years; b) First 11 years (1992-2002); and c) Last 11 years (2003-2013). This allowed the evaluation of trends and changes in partisan control.

Over the duration of the years studied, there were more states under Democratic control than Republican. Of the 49 states with partisan legislatures, 27 had a higher percentage of Democratic control than Republican control, and 21 had a higher Republican percentage. In New Jersey, Democrats and Republicans were tied with 32 instances of control (48.5 percent). Republicans held Nebraska’s governorship for more years than Democrats.

Figure 16: Map of 5 states with most/least trifectas from 1992-2013

More than two thirds of the states had governments more than 60 percent under one party’s control. Among the 20 blue states, 7 were more than 80 percent under Democratic control (bright blue), and 13 were between 60 and 80 percent under Democratic control (medium blue). Maryland and West Virginia had the two most Democratic state governments. With 93.9 percent Democratic governments, each state was fully under Democratic control except for four years under a Republican governor. Among the 17 red states, 8 were more than 80 percent under Republican control (bright red), and 9 were between 60 and 80 percent under Republican control. Utah’s governorship and legislature were fully under Republican control. The state with the next most Republican government, at 97 percent, was South Dakota. With eight years of independent Angus King’s governorship and a tied state senate for two years, Maine had the highest percentage (15.2 percent) of non-major-party control.

To examine shifts in partisanship, we divided the data into two 11-year sections -- 1992-2002 and 2003-2013. During each 11-year section, there are 33 instances of government partisan control per state -- control of the governorship, state senate, and state house each year. We calculated each state’s percentage breakdown of party control by adding up all outcomes during each section of time. For example, during the first 11 years, Illinois had 10 instances of Democratic control and 23 Republican. This meant the state was Democratic 30.3 percent of the time and Republican for 69.7 percent, making Illinois a medium red state. During the second 11 years, Illinois had 33 instances of Democratic control and 0 Republican, making Illinois a bright blue state.

Despite the recent increases in single-party legislatures and state government trifectas, the number of bright red and blue states decreased from 20 to 12 between the two periods. During the first 11 years, the Democrats held the governorships and legislative chambers for more than 80 percent of the time in 9 states. The Republicans controlled 11 states’ governorships and legislative chambers more than 80 percent of the time. During the second 11 years, there were only four bright blue states and eight bright red states. For the full breakdown of Bright/Medium/Soft states, see the full dataset.

The Democratic Party exercised more control over American state governments since 1992 than the Republicans. The Democrats were in charge in 1,612 (49.5 percent) of 3,256 total instances.[1] Republicans had 1,560 total instances of control (47.9 percent). Of the 1,628 instances of partisan control in the first 11 years, the Democratic Party held 50.6 percent (823) while the Republican Party held 47.2 percent (768). In the second half of the study, Democrats saw a slight dropoff from 50.6 percent to 48.6 percent (792) while Republicans saw an increase to 50.2 percent (817).


During the first 11 years of the study period Georgia, Hawaii, and Maryland tied as the most Democratic states with control resting 100 percent of the time with the Democratic Party. They were followed by Kentucky and Missouri with 90.91 percent, West Virginia at 87.88 percent, Alabama and North Carolina at 84.85 percent, and Arkansas at 81.82 percent. Louisiana and Vermont tied as the 10th most Democratic states at 78.79 percent.

Utah had the most Republican government with its governorship and both legislative chambers under Republican control for all 11 years. South Dakota was second with Republican control for 93.94 percent of the time, followed by Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, and Wyoming at 90.91 percent. The Kansas, Montana, and North Dakota governments were 87.88 percent Republican, and those of Michigan and New Jersey were controlled by the Republican party for 84.85 percent of the 11-year period.


During the last 11 years of the study period Illinois and West Virginia were the most staunchly Democratic, with their legislatures and governorships solely under Democratic control. They were followed by New Mexico and Washington at 90.91 percent of the time, Maryland and Massachusetts at 87.88 percent of the time, and New Jersey at 84.85 percent of the time. Arkansas and Delaware were under Democratic control 81.82 percent of the time, California, Maine, and North Carolina tied as the tenth most Democratic states at 78.79 percent.

Idaho, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah had 100 percent Republican control during the last 11 years. They were followed by Florida at 96.97 percent, and Georgia at 93.94 percent of the time. Rounding out the bright red states, Alaska, Arizona and Ohio tied for ninth most Republican during this period at 81.82 percent of the period.

See also

External links


  1. 22 years of the 50 partisan governorships (1,100 instances), 11 years of the 49 partisan state senates (1,078 instances), and 11 years of the 49 partisan state houses of representatives (1,078 instances).