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Democratic and Republican state government trifectas heading into the 2012 elections

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By Geoff Pallay

The number of statewide trifectas increased from 33 to 36 on November 6, 2012. Democrats and Republicans each gained three trifectas. Democrats lost two trifectas and Republicans lost one trifecta. Prior to the November 6, 2012 elections, there was a trifecta in 32 states. Twenty-one of those were Republican trifectas and 11 were Democratic trifectas.

The concept of the trifecta is important in state lawmaking because in many states, the governor, senate majority leader and house majority leader play decisive roles in the legislative process.

A "trifecta" is when one political party holds these three positions in a state's government:

As a result of the 2012 elections, there are only three states with divided legislatures -- Iowa, New Hampshire and Kentucky. That is the fewest in nearly 70 years.[1] There are also the most states with trifectas in 60 years.[2]

Trifecta complexities

There are three states that complicate the labeling of trifectas. These three unique situations brought the total trifectas from 37 to 36, decreasing the Democratic states by two and adding one GOP state.

  • In New York, the Democratic party by virtue of the elections controls all three levels of government. However, a power-sharing agreement was reached that gave control of the State Senate over to the Republicans, after five elected Democrats pledged to caucus with the GOP. This burst the Democratic trifecta, reducing the total trifectas by one state.[3]
  • In Virginia, the State Senate is a tied chamber as a result of the 2011 elections. However, the tiebreaking vote is cast by the Lieutenant Governor, who is a Republican. Thus, control of the Governorship and state legislature effectively rests with the Republicans. This gives Republicans an additional trifecta, increasing the total trifectas by one state.[4]
  • In Washington, the Democratic by virtue of the elections controls all three levels of government. However, a power-sharing agreement was reached that gave control of the State Senate over to the Republicans, after two conservative Democrats pledged to elected Republican leadership to the chamber. This burst the Democratic trifecta, reducing the total trifectas by one state.[5]

Pre-election trifectas

 Trifectas Before and After the 2012 Election 

The chart below assesses the breakdown of single-party trifectas in each of the 50 states. Below that, we provided projections of possible scenarios for each party based on three factors:

Pre-election breakdown

Partisan Breakdown by State before 2012 Election
Party Governor State Senate State House Trifecta
Democratic Party 20 19 17 11
Republican Party 29 28 31 21

Post-election breakdown

Partisan Breakdown by State before 2012 Election
Party Governor State Senate State House Trifecta
Democratic Party 19 20 21 14
Republican Party 30 28 28 23

Actual results

The following states had trifecta situations change in 2012. Democratic gains:

  • Colorado
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon

Democratic losses

  • Arkansas
  • Washington

Republican gains

  • Alaska
  • North Carolina
  • Wisconsin

Republican losses

  • Maine

Projections

The following states were projected to have a possibility of either losing an existing trifecta, or gaining one. We did not include states where at least one of the three parts of the trifecta was considered safe in a manner that would likely prevent a trifecta from occurring. For example, while Republicans held the Legislature in Missouri, it was widely expected that Governor Jay Nixon (D) would win re-election. At the same time, it was widely expected that Republicans would hold their majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

Democratic potentials

If the election went perfectly for the Democratic Party in close races, they could have picked up an additional five trifectas, which would have given them 15 trifectas after the election. If the Democrats performed poorly, they could have lost four trifectas which would have reduced their total to six.

Possible gains:

  • Colorado
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Oregon

Possible losses:

  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

Republican potentials

If the election went perfectly for the Republican Party in close races, they could have picked up an additional six trifectas, which would have given them 27 trifectas after the election. If the Republicans performed poorly, they could have lost two trifectas which would have reduced their total to 19.

Possible gains:

  • Alaska
  • Iowa
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Wisconsin

Possible losses:

  • Maine
  • Pennsylvania:
Note: New Hampshire was included in both lists. Prior to the election, there was no trifecta. However, both parties had at least a remote chance at achieving a trifecta on election night. Thus, it was included under both parties.

Before/After

This chart shows the partisan control of governorships, state senates and state houses, before and after the 2012 election. It will be updated after November 6. Click "Show" to reveal the table.

See also

References