Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Partisanship Results, Trifectas and Presidential Election Patterns

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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 Trifectas and Presidential Election Patterns.

Trifectas and Presidential Election Patterns

Figure 21: Map showing presidential voting over the past seven elections

The labels of "red state" and "blue state" have most commonly been assigned to states based on how they vote in presidential elections. However, many states’ presidential voting patterns differ significantly from their voting patterns in legislative and gubernatorial elections. In the seven presidential elections from 1988 to 2012, 27 states voted for Republican presidential candidates more frequently than their Democratic competitors, while 23 states voted for the Democrats more often. As shown in Figure 19-20 (pp. 24-25), we compared each state’s presidential election results with its state government’s partisan control in the four years following that presidential election. For example, the 1992 presidential election results were compared with partisan control of governorships and state legislative chambers from 1993 to 1996. The 1988 presidential election results were compared with the 1992 state governments.

According to the four elections tracked in this study -- presidential, gubernatorial, state senate, and state house -- Utah is the most partisan state over the past 22 years. It is the only state where the same party controlled the governorship and both legislative chambers for all years and carried the state in all seven presidential elections. In every other state, each major party had at least one instance of partisan control, whether of its governorship or a legislative chamber, or carried the state in at least one presidential election.

A total of seven states voted differently in the presidential election of 2012 compared to the trifecta offices. Of those seven states, six were won by President Obama while Republicans carried or maintained trifectas in state government. Those states are Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia[1] and Wisconsin. The seventh state was West Virginia which maintains a strong Democratic trifecta but consistently votes Republican in presidential elections.

Legend for State government visualization with Presidential Voting -- Figures 19 and 20

Many more states were carried by the same party in all seven presidential elections than had only governors from the same party during the same years. While 4 states had governors from only one major party, 21 states voted for one party’s presidential tickets in all presidential elections. Of these 21 states, 8 voted Democratic, and 13 voted Republican. Voters in a number of single-party presidential states gave the other major party control of their legislatures and governorships for multiple years. Five states -- Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin -- which always voted with the Democrats in presidential elections had Republican governors more often than Democratic ones. Pennsylvania, which voted with the Democrats in the last six presidential elections, had Republican trifectas for half of the time and 15 years of Republican legislatures. Across the South, which voted heavily for Republicans in presidential elections, most states, including the Republican-only presidential states of Alabama and Mississippi, had Democratic legislatures for more years than Republican ones. In recent years, the Republicans made major gains in state legislative control as the Southern states’ voting patterns in legislative elections increasingly mirrored their presidential preferences. West Virginia voted for the Republican ticket in the past four presidential elections while continuing to consistently elect Democratic trifectas to run the state government.

Figure 22: Map displaying the states that did not vary its presidential vote from 1988-2012

Just as states which vote red or blue in presidential elections may not necessarily do so in gubernatorial and legislative ones, a number of the presidential swing states leaned strongly red or blue in their state politics. Florida cast its electoral votes for Republicans four times, including decisively in the disputed 2000 presidential election, and for Democrats three times. Yet Florida’s governorship and legislature were solidly red for most of those years. The Florida House of Representatives and Senate have had Republican majorities beginning in 1995 and 1997, respectively, and Republicans have won the last four gubernatorial elections. Likewise, Ohio, which voted for the Republican president ticket in 1988, 2000, and 2004 but for the Democrats in the other four presidential elections, generally elected Republican governors and legislatures. The Ohio Senate had Republican majorities for all 22 years, the House of Representatives was Republican for all but 5 years, and only Governor Ted Strickland’s single term broke up the Republican hold on the governorship. Nevada, which also voted for the Republican ticket in 1988, 2000, and 2004 and for the Democrats in the other four presidential elections, had its governorship and state senate under Republican control more than two thirds of the time, although the Nevada Assembly was almost exclusively under Democratic control.

See also

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  1. Virginia did not hold any statewide elections in 2012 -- Republicans won a state trifecta in. Although the State Senate is tied 20-20, Republicans control the chamber as a result of the lieutenant governor being a Republican and holding the tie-breaking vote.