2013 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index
A total of 220 seats of the country's 7,383 state legislative seats were up for election in the November 5, 2013, state legislative elections. With 93% of incumbents running for re-election, 15 faced a primary challenger and one-quarter of incumbents faced no challenge at any level of the 2013 election.
- To know which states have the most competitive electoral environments and which states have the least competitive electoral environments in 2013.
- To collect data about the overall competitiveness of the 2013 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 suggested 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 be used in future years, so that political observers can assess the ebb and flow of state legislative election competitiveness over time.
In 15 (6.8%) of the 220 seats up for election on November 5, the incumbent did not run for re-election.
In 205 (93.2%) of the 220 seats up for election on November 5, the incumbent ran for re-election.
Incumbents in primaries
In 2013, 25 incumbents faced a primary challenger.
Since 205 incumbents ran for re-election in 2013, that means that only 12.2% of them faced a primary challenger.
A total of 180 incumbents (87.8%) who ran for re-election in 2013 had no primary challenger.
We also collected data on incumbents who were defeated in primaries. Although this data did not come into play in our Competitiveness Index, we noted that of the 25 incumbents who did have a challenger:
The two defeated incumbents represented 8% of the 25 who had primary opposition. That number decreased to 0.9% when considering all 205 incumbents that ran for re-election.
Although we did not use this factor in calculating the overall degree of competitiveness of the 2013 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-quarter of incumbents -- 24.3% exactly -- faced no challenge at any level of the 2013 election.
Major party candidates with no competition
There are 1,972 state senators and 5,411 state representatives. As of June 2013, there were only 66 total third party legislators out of 7,383 total state legislators. Of those 66, 49 were Nebraska State Senators, where all members are required to be nonpartisan. Thus, a major party candidate is virtually guaranteed election when facing third parties.
- In two (5.0%) of the 40 senate seats up for election, there was only one major party candidate running for election
- In 56 (31.1%) of the 180 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 58 (26.4%) of the 220 seats up for election in 2013. About one in four districts holding elections in 2013 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.
Comparison to past elections
In 2011, 578 seats were up for re-election. That is 262% more than the 220 up for re-election in 2013.
The 2011 elections saw 81.2% of incumbents run for re-election as opposed to the 93.2% who ran for re-election in 2013.
Despite the increase in seats up for re-election and decrease in incumbents running for re-election, 2011 had a greater percentage of incumbents facing primary challengers. In 2011, 20.1% of incumbents faced a primary challenger, while those running in 2013 faced a primary challenger at a rate of only 12.2%.
Although 2011 incumbents faced increased primary challenges compared to their 2013 counterparts, incumbents in 2011 faced no competition at all a greater number of times. In 2013, 24.3% of incumbents faced no challenge at either the primary or general election level. This is a marked decrease from 2011, where incumbents faced no competition at either stage 50.1% of the time.
In 2013, about half as many seats had only one major party candidate than in 2011. While 42.6% of general election candidates in 2011 enjoyed no major party opposition, only 26.4% of candidates saw their name as the only Democrat or Republican on the 2013 general election ballot.
Altogether, when compared to the 2011 elections, the 2013 elections had an increased percentage of incumbents running for re-election. While fewer of those incumbents on average faced primary challengers, more of them faced at least some opposition overall.
In 2009, 180 seats were up for re-election. That is 81.8% of the 220 up for re-election in 2013.
The 2009 elections saw 89.5% of incumbents run for re-election, while in 2013 93.2% ran for re-election.
Incumbents in 2009 faced primary challengers at a rate of 18.6%, while in 2013 that number decreased to only 12.2%
The number of seats in both elections that saw only one major party field candidates was nearly identical. The 26.4% figure from 2013 is only a slight decrease from the 26.7% number in 2013.
The 2013 elections had more seats up for re-election and a greater percentage of incumbents running for re-election. Fewer of those incumbents on average faced primary challengers in 2013, while the amount of seats where only one major party fielded a candidate were nearly identical.
- State legislative elections, 2013
- 2011 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index