Breaking down the August state legislative primaries in Mississippi

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June 28, 2011

By: Geoff Pallay


JACKSON, Mississippi: In 5 weeks, Mississippi’s Democratic and Republican candidates face party primaries in order to qualify for the November 8 general election. Each district holds two parallel primaries to select major party nominees. However, in the majority of districts, voters might as well stay home, given the lack of contested primaries.

Mississippi has 52 Senate districts and 122 House districts, leaving 348 possible primaries combined in the two chambers. In Mississippi, a primary is "contested" when at least two candidates are competing for their respective party’s nomination.

There are only 26 contested primaries out of the 104 primaries in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, only 51 of the 244 primaries are contested. All told, only 77 out of the 348 primaries on August 2 (22.1%) will require voters to choose between multiple candidates. In the remaining 271 primaries (77.9%), the candidate automatically advances to the general election.

Previous elections and primaries

3Competitive 2011.jpg

How does this coming primary compare to prior years' levels of competition? The table below compares the 2007 and 2011 primary candidate lists according to the following factors:

  1. Was there an incumbent in the primary? If not, this was considered "Open"
  2. Was the primary "contested," as described above, meaning at least one candidate would ultimately "lose" the primary

The table breaks down the variables by political party as well.

Major findings:

  • Total contested primaries have decreased from 78 in 2007 to 77 in 2011
  • The number of incumbents contested has decreased from 46 in 2007 to 39 in 2011, while the number of uncontested incumbents has grown even more. In 2007, 110 incumbents were uncontested but 109 will advance straight to the general election in 2011.
  • The total number of uncontested primaries has stayed largely the same -- 164 in 2007 and 166 in 2011.
  • One factor in Mississippi that stands out in primaries is the number of primaries where no candidate declares for election at all -- meaning the winner of the opposing primary is virtually guaranteed of winning in November. In other words, the primary ultimately serves as the de facto general election. In 2007, there were 106 primaries where no the major party did not field a candidate. In 2011, that figure has decreased by one to 105.
  • When combining all 696 primaries over the past 2 elections, 330 -- or 47.4% -- of all primaries have been uncontested.
  • However, when factoring in the primaries with no candidate at all, only 22.3% of all primaries were contested in 2007 and 2011 combined.

Note: In Mississippi, only the House and Senate members are elected to four-year terms.

Comparing Contested Primaries of past two MS Elections
Democrats Republicans Total
2007 2011 2007 2011 2007 2011
Open Contested 16 13 16 25 32 38
Open Uncontested 21 28 33 29 54 57
Incumbent Contested 31 23 15 16 46 39
Incumbent Uncontested 66 57 44 52 110 109
No candidates 40 53 66 52 106 105
Total contested 47 36 31 41 78 77
Total uncontested 87 85 77 81 164 166

2011 breakdown

  • Senate Incumbents
  • Of the senate's 52 incumbents, 43 are running for re-election. Of these 43 incumbents, 32 will not face a primary opponent. The remaining 11 incumbents will face a primary challenger. Of these incumbents 5 are Democrats and 6 are Republicans.
  • House Incumbents
  • There are 122 total incumbents running in the 2011 House of Representatives elections. Of the state’s 244 House primaries, an incumbent is running in 106 of them. Of these 106 primaries, only 28 are contested -- 18 Democratic and 10 Republican.
  • Senate Open Primaries
  • An open primary occurs whenever an incumbent is not running. This can result from the incumbent’s retiring or being a member of another political party. There are 61 open primaries in the State Senate, 31 are Republican, 30 are Democratic.
Of the 31 open Republican primaries, only 10 are contested -- although another 11 fielded no candidate at all. Of the 30 open Democratic primaries, 5 are contested with 18 unfilled slots.
Therefore, of the 61 total Senate open primaries, only 15 are contested.
  • House Open Primaries
  • Of the 244 House primaries, 139 had no incumbent running. Of these 139, 75 are Republican and 64 are Democratic. Of the 75 open Republican primaries, only 15 are contested. Of the 64 open Democratic primaries, only 8 are contested.

Comparison to prior elections

Compared to the most recent election in Mississippi (2007 the list of candidates this year is similar in statistical makeup with respect to competitiveness. The total figures are nearly identical with respect to total uncontested and contested primaries.

Comparing Overall Competitiveness of past two MS Elections
2007 2011
Total open seats 18 25
Open seats % 0 0
Total incumbents without primary 110 109
Incumbents w/out primary % 1 1
Total candidates with no major party opposition 105 103
No major party opposition % 1 1

Comparison to other states

Last year, we conducted a competitiveness analysis of all 46 states that held state legislative elections.

Here is how the 2011 Mississippi elections would have stacked up to the 46 states measured in the 2010 index.

  • Primaries: With 62.6% of incumbents running unopposed in primaries, Mississippi would have been the 8th most competitive state in this variable, just above Utah and below Rhode Island.

Therefore, Mississippi would have been ranked 10th in last year's overall competitiveness index.

Ballotpedia note: Kevin Diana, Justin Haas, Tyler King and Tyler Millhouse contributed to this report.

See also

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