Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Part One: State Partisanship
State Partisanship Analysis
Partisan Control of Governorships
From 1992 to 2013, 46 states had at least one governor from each of the two major parties. During these years, only Oregon and Washington did not have a Republican governor, and only Utah and South Dakota did not have a Democratic governor. On average, states spent 10.8 of the 22 years (49 percent) under Republican governors, 10.5 years (48 percent) under Democrats, and 0.7 years (3 percent) under governors with other partisan affiliations.
Among the 48 states which had at least one Democratic governor during this period, four states had Democratic governors more than 90 percent of the time. Aside from Washington and Oregon, Delaware had Democratic governors for 21 years (95 percent), and North Carolina had Democratic governors for 20 years (91 percent). Fifteen states had Democratic governors more often than they had Republican governors. These fifteen had Democratic governors nearly 76 percent of the time. The Democratic Party had its highest number of governors (31) in 1993 and its lowest number (17) from 1997 to 1999.
As for the 48 states which had at least one Republican governor during this period, three Western states had Republican governors more than 90 percent of time. In addition to 100-percent Republican gubernatorial streaks of Utah and South Dakota, Republicans held North Dakota’s governorship for 21 years (95 percent), with Democratic Governor George A. Sinner’s final year (1992) as the only exception. Twenty-six states had Republican governors for more years than they had Democratic governors. These twenty-six had Republican governors 72 percent of the time. In 1997 and 1998, the Republican Party controlled the most governorships (32) of any of this study’s years. The United States had the fewest Republican governors, only 17, in 1993.
Eight states’ governorships were occupied by Democrats and Republicans for equal amounts of time, 11 years for each party. Maine’s governorship was Democratic for eight years, independent for eight years, and Republican for six years.
Forty-three states did not have a governor outside of the major parties, and no state had more than one. Only Alaska (Wally Hickel, Alaskan Independence Party), Connecticut (Lowell P. Weicker, A Connecticut Party), Florida (Charlie Crist, no party affiliation), Maine (Angus King, independent), Minnesota (Jesse Ventura, Reform Party and then Independence Party), and Rhode Island (Lincoln Chafee, independent) had governors unaffiliated with either the Republican or Democratic Parties. With King’s two gubernatorial terms, Maine’s governorship was in non-major-party hands for eight years (36 percent of the time), more than any other state. The United States never had more than two non-major-party governors in the same year, which happened in 1992, 1993, and again from 1999 through 2002. From 2003 through 2009, there were no non-major-party governors.
Partisan Control of State Legislatures
Slightly more than half as many states had periods of both Democratic and Republican legislative control as had both Democratic and Republican governors from 1992 to 2013. While 46 states had at least one governor from each major party, only 24 state legislatures were controlled for at least one year by each party. On average across the 22 years surveyed, the United States had 38 legislatures under single-party control (20 Democratic, 18 Republican), 11 legislatures under split partisan control, and the Nebraskan nonpartisan legislature. The remainder of this analysis of the partisan control of state legislatures excludes Nebraska and deals only with the 49 states which have partisan legislatures. The average state legislature was under Democratic control for 9.1 years (41 percent), under Republican control for 7.9 years (36 percent), and under split partisan control for 5.1 years (23 percent). During the 22 years, 21 state legislatures were under Democratic control more frequently than they were under Republican or split partisan control, 19 were most often under Republican control, and 8 were typically under split control. New Jersey’s legislature was Republican for 10 years, Democratic for 10 years, and split for 2 years.
Over the past 22 years, state legislatures have come increasingly under single-party control. In 1993 and 1994, the years with the lowest level of single-party legislative control in our study, 32 legislatures were under single-party control. During the first 11 years (1992-2002), the 49 partisan state legislatures were under single-party control 73 percent of the time. About 58% (226) of the single-party state legislatures were under Democratic control, while Republicans controlled 42% (167). In the final 11 years (2003-2013), partisan state legislatures were under single-party control 81% of the time. Of the single-party state legislatures, 49.9% (217) were controlled by Democrats and 50.1% (218) by Republicans. In 2009, the number of legislatures with single-party control reached 40 for the first time in our study and stayed the same or increased in each year through 2013, when 44 of 49 partisan state legislatures are under single-party control. In comparing the two 11-year periods, we found that the proportion of the 49 partisan legislatures under single-party control increased almost 8 percent, from 73 to nearly 81 percent. This trend of increasing single-party control of state legislatures has continued despite several national swings of control between the major parties, holding true after Democratic gains in 2008, the Republican landslide in 2010, and Democratic gains in 2012.
Thirteen states did not have a Republican legislature for even a single year. Six of these legislatures (Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, New York, and Vermont) had a combination of Democratic and split control, and the other seven (California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia) were under Democratic control for the entire period. The Democrats controlled their greatest number of state legislatures in 1992 with 29, the highest number recorded by either party. They approached this figure in 2009 and 2010 when they controlled 27 legislatures but thereafter controlled their least number of legislatures in 2011 and 2012 with only 15. Twelve state legislatures were not under Democratic control for even one year. Ten of these legislatures (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota) had a combination of Republican and split control, and the other two, Wyoming and Utah, were entirely under Republican control. Republicans controlled only seven legislatures in 1992, the fewest within this time frame. In 2012, they controlled their greatest number of state legislatures with 28. All 49 partisan state legislatures had some years of single-party control. The New York legislature was the closest of any state legislature to be permanently under split partisan control, having had split control for 20 of the 22 (91%) years studied. No state legislature was under independent or minor-party control during this period. The last time a state legislature was under plurality control of a minor party was in 1938, the fourth and final year of the Progressive Party’s dominance in Wisconsin politics.
State Government Trifectas
A “trifecta” occurs when the same political party controls the state’s lower legislative chamber (i.e., the House of Representatives), senate, and governorship. The concept of the trifecta is important in state lawmaking because a state’s governor, senate leadership, and house leadership typically play decisive roles in the legislative process. In theory, a trifecta signifies that a political party has functional control over a state’s government, but the dominant party’s actual ability to implement its plans depends on the size of its legislative majorities, the relationships among its legislators and between the legislative leadership and the governor, and that state’s laws, including any rules requiring supermajorities to pass certain kinds of legislation. When one party does not control both legislative chambers and the governorship, that state can be said to be under divided government.
We identified the partisan breakdown of each state’s government for each year from 1992 to 2013, a total of 1,100 state governments--one for each of the 50 states per year for 22 years. For each year, we classified each state as having a Democratic trifecta, a Republican trifecta, or divided government.
Over the past 22 years, states had 591 divided governments and 509 trifectas. Of these 509 trifectas, 47% (238) were Democratic while 53% (271) were Republican. An average state would have had 11.8 years of divided governments, 5.4 years of Republican control, and 4.8 years of Democratic control.
During this 22-year period, Utah had both the greatest total number of trifecta governments and the greatest number of Republican trifectas at 22. There was not a single year in this period where Utah was not run by a Republican trifecta. Maryland and West Virginia tied with 18 Democratic trifectas, the most in our study. The five states with the most trifectas leaned heavily Republican. After Utah (22 trifectas), Georgia (20), South Dakota (20), Idaho (19), and North Dakota (19) round out the top five. These states had a combined total of 100 years of trifecta governments out of the possible 110. Of these 100 trifectas, 11 were Democrat and 89 were Republican. Of the top five, only Georgia had Democratic trifectas more often than Republican ones, with 11 Democratic and 9 Republican trifectas. From 1992 through last year, neither Minnesota nor Nevada had had a trifecta, but because of Democratic gains in the 2012 elections, both states currently have trifecta governments. The only state not to have had at least one trifecta during the entire 22-year period was Nebraska, whose unicameral (single-chamber) legislature is officially nonpartisan. Because neither party could officially control the legislature, we classified Nebraska’s government as divided for every year.
Overall, 32 states had at least one Republican trifecta, and 35 had at least one Democratic trifecta. Only 18 states had at least one Republican and one Democratic trifecta. Every state except Utah had at least one year of divided government. Divided governments were more common than trifectas in 26 states, trifectas were more common in 16 states, and eight states had trifectas and divided governments for an equal number of years. If we consider Republican trifectas, Democratic trifectas, and divided governments as three separate categories, eight states had Republican trifectas as their most common government, while six had Democratic trifectas as their most common government. Of this entire 22-year period, there have only been four years, all within the last five (2009, 2011-2013), with more states with trifecta governments than split partisan governments. In 2000 and 2007, there was an equal number (25 each) of trifectas and split partisan control. The massive shift in types of government control is even more evident if the 22-year period is broken out into five separate batches of data, as evidenced below.
In the first five years, from 1992 to 1996, there were 147 divided governments (58.8 percent) and 103 trifecta governments (41.2 percent), more of which were Democrat than Republican. Among the trifecta governments, 63 were Democratic (61.2 percent of the 103 trifectas), and 40 were Republican (38.8 percent).
In the second five-year period, from 1997 to 2001, the United States had 144 divided governments (57.6 percent) and 106 trifecta governments (42.4 percent). There were more Republican trifectas, 67 (63.2 percent of the 106 trifectas), than Democratic trifectas, 39 (36.8 percent), during this period.
From 2002 to 2006, there were 151 divided governments (60.4 percent) and 99 trifecta governments (39.6 percent). Of these 99, 40 (40.4 percent) were Democratic and 59 (59.6 percent) were Republican, continuing the trend of a greater number of Republican than Democratic trifecta governments.
From 2007 to 2010, the trend of Republican control reversed, and Democrats had a greater number of trifectas than Republicans after their 2006 and 2008 electoral victories. There were 101 divided governments (50.5 percent) and 99 trifecta governments (49.5 percent). Of the trifectas, 62 (62.6 percent) were Democratic, and 37 (37.4 percent) were Republican.
In the past three years, from 2011 to 2013, there have been 102 total trifectas (68 percent) and only 48 divided governments (32 percent). Of the trifectas, 34 (33.3 percent) were Democratic and 68 (66.7 percent) were Republican. Following the substantial Republican gains in 2010, the balance of state power swung back to the Republican Party while still continuing the trend of an ever increasing number of trifecta governments.
There were no minor-party trifectas during the past 22 years. The last party other than the Republicans and Democrats to have an effective trifecta was Wisconsin’s Progressive Party, which held the governorship and significant pluralities in both legislative chambers from 1935 to 1939.
Among the 591 divided governments, the most common combination was the pairing of a Republican governor with a Democratic legislature. This happened 195 times, roughly a third of all divided governments and 18% of all 1100 state governments. The next most common combination, a Democratic governor with a split legislature, occurred 137 times, followed by a Democratic governor with a Republican legislature (113) and a Republican governor with a split legislature (103).
Overall State Partisanship Classification
To estimate the partisan leanings of states, we developed two different methods to measure based on party control of legislatures and governorships. The first measure provided us with an annual, relative snapshot of party control. The second measure considered individual party control of each institution in aggregate over the study period.
The first measure coded each combination of party control in government as more Republican or more Democratic for each year that combination held office. We developed this “coding” measure based on the theory that party control of a legislature was likely more indicative of a state’s partisan leanings than party control of a governorship, as legislatures are determined through multiple elections and individual personalities or campaigns may have less influence on voters. A switch in partisanship for a legislature may constitute a broader change in the partisanship of the electorate, and thus we give the partisanship of the legislature more weight.
Based on this rationale, we developed a “coding” system that ranks roughly the extent to which a state electorate prefers Republicans or Democrats in state government. This coding system also assumes that governors who are not Republican or Democratic tend to be more centrist. The table below details our coding system.
Our second measure of state partisanship was based on the number of years that either the legislature or the governorship was controlled by a political party over the entire study period. To build this “scoring” measure, we coded a state government with a positive one (1) for each governing institution (governorship or legislature) that Republicans controlled in that year, a negative one (-1) for each institution controlled by Democrats, and a zero (0) for each institution under split or other party control. For example, a state with a Republican governor and a split legislature would be coded as a one (1), with one (1) for the governorship and zero (0) for the legislature summed to (1). A state with a Democratic trifecta would be coded as a negative two (-2), with negative one (-1) for the governorship and negative one (-1) for the state legislature. We coded each state government for each year in the study period, and then summed the scores to find an aggregate measure of the state’s Democratic or Republican leanings, or “score,” over time.
The “scores” for states ranged from Utah, with a score of 44 (which indicates Republican trifectas for every year in the study period), to West Virginia and Maryland, which were tied at -36. New York had the most balanced government between the two parties over the study period, earning a score of zero. New York’s partisan control breakdown is a unique situation. Although a large majority of voters in New York are Democratic a few reasons have led to consistent Republican control of the State Senate. Firstly, upstate New York is a generally more rural and conservative geographic area. Because of how redistricting maps are drawn -- in part because of a behind-the-scenes power-sharing arrangement -- the State Senate districts are gerrymandered to provide Republicans an opportunity to generally win control of the chamber. For more information, see Appendix A: Complete State Partisan Rankings – Aggregate Measure, 1992-2013. Year-to-Year Changes in State Partisan Control
In addition to the simple number of years each party was in control, we took into account the stability of the government’s partisan composition over time. We considered a partisan control change to have taken place when the partisan status of the legislature, governorship, or both changed. From 1992 to 2013, partisan control of each state government could have changed a maximum of 21 times. State governments had 200 changes in party control, a with an average of 9.5 changes annually nationwide. On average, the partisan status of each state’s government changed 4 times, approximately once every five years. Utah had the most stable government with no changes in its Republican trifecta control during this period. Massachusetts and Nebraska each had only one change in party control. Wisconsin had the least stable partisan control in its government with a total of nine changes. The Badger State’s party control changed nearly every two years. New Hampshire had eight changes, followed by Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia with seven each.
- [Full Dataset on Google Docs]