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2011 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index

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By Geoff Pallay

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578 seats of the country's 7,384 state legislative seats are up for election in the November 8, 2011 state legislative elections.

This article is an overview of our analysis of the degree of competitiveness in 2011's state legislative elections. The analysis utilized this 3-factor "Competitiveness Index".

Primary competitiveness

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.

Thus far, candidate lists have been released in State legislative elections, 2011#New Jersey and State legislative elections, 2011#Mississippi.

Mississippi

New Jersey

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
Democrats Republicans Total
2007 2009 2011 2007 2009 2011 2007 2009 2011
Open contested 4 0 2 4 6 10 8 6 12
Open uncontested 36 15 29 46 17 40 82 32 69
Incumbent contested 7 9 8 3 8 4 10 17 12
Incumbent uncontested 33 16 38 20 7 25 53 23 63
Total contested 11 9 10 7 14 14 18 23 24
Total uncontested 69 31 67 66 24 65 135 55 132
No Candidates 0 0 3 7 2 1 7 2 4

Note: In 2009, only the General Assembly held elections. Senators are elected to four-year terms (except in the year after redistricting, like 2011, when they receive two-year terms).

  • 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.

Objectives

2011 state legislative elections analyzed using a Competitiveness Index
  • 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.

Open seats

Incumbents in primaries

Major party candidates with no competition

Methodology

Primary competitiveness

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.

See also