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.
This fall, with only four states holding elections, we are adding an additional level of analysis to the study -- an increased emphasis on primary competitiveness specifically.
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.
|Comparing Contested Primaries of past two MS Elections|
- 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 the primaries with no candidate at all, only 22.3% of all primaries were contested in 2007 and 2011 combined.
New Jersey has 40 legislative districts, leaving 80 possible primaries in each chamber -- 40 Democratic and 40 Republican. In the Senate, a primary is "contested" when at least two candidates are competing for their respective party’s nomination. In the General Assembly, a contested primary will feature at least 3 candidates since the top-2 vote getters advance to the general election.
There were only 9 contested primaries out of the 80 primaries in the Senate. In the General Assembly, only 15 of the 80 primaries were contested. All told, only 24 out of the 160 primaries on June 7 (15%) required voters to choose between multiple candidates. In the remaining 136 primaries (85%), the candidate (or candidates in the New Jersey General Assembly) automatically advanced to the general election.
|Comparing Contested Primaries of past three NJ Elections|
- Total contested primaries have increased from 18 in 2007 to 24 in 2011
- While the number of incumbents contested has increased from 10 in 2007 to 12 in 2011, the number of uncontested incumbents has grown even more. In 2007, 53 incumbents were uncontested but 63 will advance straight to the general election in 2011 due to a decrease in open seats.
- The total number of uncontested primaries has stayed largely the same -- 135 in 2007 and 132 in 2011.
- When combining all 400 primaries over the past 3 elections, 322 -- or 80.5% -- of all primaries have been uncontested.
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.
- 13 of these incumbents are not running due to state legislative term limits in Louisiana.
- Alternatively, of the 578 legislative seats up for election in 2010, 565 incumbents could, legally, have run again in 2010.
- Of those 565 seats, 92 incumbents (16.3%) who could have run again in 2010 chose not to.
After adjusting for term limited state legislators, 83.7% of the incumbents who were legally able to run again in 2010 chose to run again.
Incumbents in primaries
145 incumbents faced a primary challenger in 2011.
Since 473 incumbents ran for re-election in 2011, that means that only 30.7% of them faced a primary challenger.
262 incumbents (64.4%) 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 -- 53.7% 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||54||182||236|
|% with no primary or general||31.6%||44.7%||49.9%|
Major party candidates with no competition
There are 1,971 state senators and 5,413 state representatives. There are only xx total third party legislators out of 7,384 total state legislators. Thus, a major party candidate is virtually guaranteed election when facing third parties.
- In 64 (37.2%) of the 171 senate seats up for election, there is only one major party candidate running for election
- In 181 (44.5%) of the 407 house seats up for election, there is 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 is only one major party candidate in 245 (42.4%) of the 578 seats up for election in 2010. Nearly 1 in 2 districts holding elections this November will field 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 were 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