Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Partisanship Results, State Government Trifectas

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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 State Government Trifectas.

State Government Trifectas

Figure 12: Line graph of trifecta changes from 1992-2013

A "trifecta" occurs when the same political party controls the state’s lower legislative chamber (i.e., the House of Representatives), senate, and governorship. The governor, senate leadership, and house leadership typically play decisive roles in the legislative process. In theory, a trifecta signifies that a political party has functional control over a state’s government, but the dominant party’s actual ability to implement its plans depends on the size of its legislative majorities, the relationships among its legislators and between the legislative leadership and the governor, and that state’s laws, including any rules requiring supermajorities to pass certain kinds of legislation. When the same party does not control both legislative chambers and the governorship, that state is under divided government.

We identified the partisan breakdown of each state’s government for each year from 1992 to 2013, a total of 1,078 state governments -- one for each of the 49 states with partisan legislatures for each of 22 years. For each year, we classified each state as having a Democratic trifecta, a Republican trifecta, or divided government.

Over the past 22 years, states had 569 divided governments and 509 trifectas. Of these 509 trifectas, 47 percent (241) were Democratic while 53 percent (268) were Republican. An average state would have had 11.6 years of divided governments, 5.5 years of Republican control, and 4.9 years of Democratic control.

Figure 9: Percentage breakdown of trifectas and divided government from 1992-2013

During this 22-year period, Utah had both the greatest total number of trifecta governments and the greatest number of Republican trifectas at 22. There was not a single year in this period where Utah was not run by a Republican trifecta. Maryland and West Virginia tied with 18 Democratic trifectas, the most in our study.

The five states with the most trifectas leaned heavily Republican. After Utah (22 trifectas), Georgia (20), South Dakota (20), Idaho (19), and North Dakota (19) round out the top five. These states had a combined total of 100 years of trifecta governments out of the possible 110. Of these 100 trifectas, 11 were Democratic and 89 were Republican. Of the top five, only Georgia had Democratic trifectas more often than Republican ones, with 11 Democratic and 9 Republican trifectas.

Because of Democratic gains in the 2012 legislative elections, Minnesota currently has its first trifecta in the years covered by this study. Nevada also had only a lone year of trifecta governance, a Democratic trifecta in 1992. The only state not to have had at least one trifecta during the entire 22-year period was Nebraska. Because neither party could officially control the nonpartisan legislature, we have not included the Cornhusker State in our trifecta analysis.

Legend for State government trifecta visualization -- Figures 10 and 11

Overall, 32 states had at least one Republican trifecta, and 36 had at least one Democratic trifecta. Only 19 states had at least one Republican and one Democratic trifecta.[1] Every state except Utah had at least one year of divided government. Divided governments were more common than trifectas in 24 states, trifectas were more common in 17 states, and 8 states had trifectas and divided governments for an equal number of years. If we consider Republican trifectas, Democratic trifectas, and divided governments as three separate categories, eight states[2] had Republican trifectas as their most common government, while six[3] had Democratic trifectas as their most common government.

Of this entire 22-year period, there have only been four years, all within the last five years (2009, 2011-2013), with more states with trifecta governments than divided governments. The massive shift in types of government control is even more evident if the 22-year period is broken out into five separate batches of data, as evidenced below.

In the first five years, from 1992 to 1996, there were 142 divided governments (58 percent) and 103 trifecta governments (42 percent), more of which were Democratic than Republican. Among the trifecta governments, 64 were Democratic (62.1 percent of the 103 trifectas), and 39 were Republican (37.9 percent).

In the second five-year period, from 1997 to 2001, the United States had 140 divided governments (57.1 percent) and 105 trifecta governments (42.9 percent). There were more Republican trifectas, 67 (63.8 percent of the 105 trifectas), than Democratic trifectas, 38 (36.2 percent), during this period.

From 2002 to 2006, there were 143 divided governments (58.4 percent) and 102 trifecta governments (41.6 percent). Of these 102, 43 (42.2 percent) were Democratic and 59 (57.8 percent) were Republican, continuing the trend toward a greater number of Republican than Democratic trifecta governments.

From 2007 to 2010, the trend of Republican control reversed, and Democrats had a greater number of trifectas than Republicans after their 2006 and 2008 electoral victories. There were 99 divided governments (50.5 percent) and 97 trifecta governments (49.5 percent). Of the trifectas, 62 (63.9 percent) were Democratic, and 35 (36.1 percent) were Republican.

Figure 13: Trifectas vs. Divided governments, broken down by five sections of years. Note the growing trend of trifecta government

In the past three years, from 2011 to 2013, there have been 102 total trifectas (69.4 percent) and only 45 divided governments (30.6 percent). Of the trifectas, 34 (33.3 percent) were Democratic and 68 (66.7 percent) were Republican. Following the substantial Republican gains in 2010, the balance of state power swung back to the Republican Party while the number of trifecta governments continued to increase. In 2013, following Democratic gains in 2012, the number of trifectas increased by two -- a net gain of one by each party. However, had the Republicans not allied with dissident Democrats to deny the Democrats control of both the Washington and New York Senates, those two states would have also been Democratic trifectas, bringing the national trifecta total to 38.

There were no minor party trifectas during the past 22 years. The last party other than the Republicans and Democrats to have an effective trifecta was Wisconsin’s Progressive Party, which held the governorship and significant pluralities in both legislative chambers from 1935 to 1939. Among the 569 divided governments, the most common combination was the pairing of a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature. This happened 192 times, a third of all divided governments and 18 percent of all 1078 state governments that had partisan legislatures. The next most common combination, a Democratic governor with a split legislature, occurred 130 times, followed by a Democratic governor with a Republican legislature (115) and a Republican governor with a split legislature (111). Excluding the 15 years when Republicans held Nebraska’s governorship, Republican governors had Republican legislatures 268 out of 571 times (46.9 percent), Democratic legislatures 192 times (33.6 percent), and split legislatures 111 times (19.4 percent). Excluding the 7 years when Democrats held Nebraska’s governorship, Democratic governors were slightly more likely to have legislatures of their own party than the Republican governors were, with Democratic legislatures 241 out of 486 times (49.6 percent), split legislatures 130 times (26.7 percent), and Republican legislatures 115 times (23.7 percent).

Figure 14: Breakdown of the most common composition of government by state, 1992-2013

See also

External links


  1. Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin
  2. Arizona, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah
  3. Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, and West Virginia