2011 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index
By Geoff Pallay
- To know which states have the most competitive electoral environment and which states have the least competitive electoral environments in 2011.
- To collect data about the overall competitiveness of the 2011 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 that can used in future years, so that political observers can assess the ebb and flow of state legislative election competitiveness over time.
In 473 (81.8%) of the 578 seats up for election on November 8, the incumbent ran for re-election.
In 105 (18.2%) of the 578 seats up for election on November 8, the incumbent did not run for re-election.
- 16 of these incumbents did not run due to state legislative term limits in Louisiana.
- Alternatively, of the 578 legislative seats up for election in 2011, 562 incumbents could, legally, have run again in 2011.
- Of those 562 seats, 92 incumbents (16.4%) who could have run again in 2011 chose not to.
After adjusting for term limited state legislators, 83.6% of the incumbents who were legally able to run again in 2011 chose to run again.
Incumbents in primaries
95 incumbents faced a primary challenger in 2011.
Since 473 incumbents ran for re-election in 2011, that means that only 20.1% of them faced a primary challenger.
378 incumbents (79.9%) running for re-election in 2011 had no primary challenger.
Although this data did not come into play in our Competitiveness Index, we also noted that of the 145 incumbents who did have a challenger:
- No incumbent Democratic senators were defeated in a primary
- 4 incumbent Republican state senators were defeated in a primary.
- 2 incumbent Democratic state representatives were defeated in a primary
- 2 incumbent Republican state representatives were defeated in a primary.
Altogether, 8 incumbent state legislators who ran for re-election in 2011 lost in a primary. This is 5.5% of the 145 who had primary opposition. It is 1.7%, when compared to the 473 incumbents running for re-election.
Although we didn't use this factor in calculating the overall degree of competitiveness of the 2011 state legislative elections, we also collected information about which incumbents had no primary election challenge and no general election challenge.
According to our data, about one half of incumbents -- 50.1% exactly -- faced no challenge at any level of the 2011 election.
|% with no incumbent||15.8%||19.2%||18.2%|
|Incumbents with no primary||116||262||378|
|% with no primary||80.6%||79.6%||79.9%|
|Candidates with no major party opposition||64||181||245|
|% with no major party opposition||37.4%||44.5%||42.4%|
|Incumbents with no primary or general||55||182||237|
|% with no primary or general||38.2%||55.3%||50.1%|
Major party candidates with no competition
There are 1,971 state senators and 5,413 state representatives. In 2011, there were only 77 third party legislators out of 7,384 total state legislators. Of those 77, 49 were Nebraska State Senators, where all candidates must run as a nonpartisan. Thus, a major party candidate is virtually guaranteed election when facing third parties.
- In 65 (38.0%) of the 171 senate seats up for election, there was only one major party candidate running for election
- In 181 (44.5%) of the 407 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 246 (42.6%) of the 578 seats up for election in 2010. Nearly 1 in 2 districts holding elections in 2011 fielded only one major party candidate.
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
- Incumbent faces a primary challenger
- 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.
- State legislative elections, 2011
- 2010 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index