These State Legislative Chambers Are Most Likely to Flip Blue

A limited number of lawmakers gather on the House floor as the North Carolina General Assembly opens a new session amid the current COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

A limited number of lawmakers gather on the House floor as the North Carolina General Assembly opens a new session amid the current COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) Associated Press

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Democrats could take control in a handful of states, including North Carolina and Texas. But it won't be easy.

A half-dozen chambers in state legislatures could flip to Democratic control after next week’s election, giving the party a role in redrawing the electoral boundaries that will help determine control of both Congress and state governments for the next decade.

“Most of the legislators who are elected on Tuesday will have a great say over how redistricting takes place in the next two years,” said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri. “Most states are not at issue—that is, most states lean heavily one way or the other, and the legislature is unlikely to switch hands—but there are a few places that are possibly going to switch party control, and that comes at a particularly important time.”

Since 2010, Republicans have controlled a majority of state legislatures, and because most states let their lawmakers draw the electoral maps, that advantage has given them outsized control over the boundaries that help determine which party remains in power. Today, Republicans control 59 of the 98 chambers that have partisan control—or 60%. They also have trifectas—controlling both legislative chambers and the governor’s office—in 21 states, compared to 15 for Democrats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Since 1900, an average of 12 chambers have flipped every two-year election cycle, but that number has gone down over time, said Carl Klarner, a political consultant who provides quantitative data and forecasts for state legislative races. For example, in 2018, a year when Democrats took over the U.S. House of Representatives, only six state chambers changed hands.

“Chambers are becoming more and more either safely Republican or Democrat,” he said. “If I was going to bet, I’d say the Democrats will pick up maybe five total.”

This year, Republicans' prospectives for turning a legislative chamber are far more limited, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, such as winning full control of the House in Alaska, where a coalition of Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans are currently in power. Perhaps another opportunity would be in New Hampshire, where Republicans need to flip three seats to turn the Senate.

The likelihood of a chamber flipping depends on a host of factors outside the candidates running for office, including the political affiliation of the state’s governor, the party of the president of the United States, and the percentage by which each party won or lost the individual seats on the ballot, Klarner said. This year, the race between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump, and how each perform in particular states, could also influence races down the ballot. 

In North Carolina, for example, Democrats need to gain five seats to flip the Senate and six seats to flip the House. Every seat in the legislature is up for re-election, Klarner said, including five Republican-held Senate seats whose Democratic challengers received at least 46% of the vote in the last election. That matters, he noted, because data indicates that seats won by a margin of less than 10% of the vote flip about a quarter of the time. 

“It gives you an idea of how possible it is for the Dems to pick up a seat,” he said. “Reaching down to 46%, in terms of these seats, is totally doable.”

The percentages are similar in the North Carolina House—there are six Republican-held seats where Democratic challengers received at least 47% of the vote—so there’s a chance both could flip. But there are other factors to consider, including the presence of incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, on the ballot (the incumbent’s party tends to suffer a bit in down-ballot races, Klarner said) and legislative districts that are extensively gerrymandered toward Republicans. 

Court-ordered redistricting two years ago leveled that playing field a bit, but the new maps still favor the GOP, meaning it’s  uphill battle for Democrats to win seats.

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Democrats could take control of at least one of those chambers,” Squire said. “But the lines are still stacked against them.”

The situation is similar in Wisconsin, where Democrats would need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate and 14 to gain control of the Assembly. The districts there also favor Republicans, Squire said, to the extent that “it would be hard for the Democrats, even if they get a sort of landslide election, to take control of the legislature just because of the way the lines are drawn.”

Other interesting states include Minnesota, where Democrats need two seats to flip the Senate and create a trifecta, and Texas, where they would need to gain a total of 13 seats—four in the Senate and nine in the House—to take control of the legislature. The demographics there—a growing Hispanic population and increasing numbers of younger voters—favor Democrats, though a total flip is a long shot, Squire said.

“In 2018, they picked up a lot more seats in the legislature than I think most folks had anticipated, and it puts them within reach this time—but it’s a stretch,” he said. “But they could pick up more seats, in urban areas and in the suburbs as well.”

The outcomes of state legislative races nationwide will hinge on turnout, how many voters turn in straight-party ballots, and what Klarner called “weird biases” that could be drawn out by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“For example, you could have people with higher education levels who happen to be Republicans and are better able to navigate voting by mail,” he said. “Turnout is up for early voting and mail-in voting, but we just don’t know if overall turnout is going to be higher.”

Contests in many states may also be decided by suburban voters, Squire said, noting they tend to favor more moderate candidates.

“In a lot of these states, it’s the suburbs that will determine whether something flips or not,” he said. “Those are people who are more moderate Republicans who may be uncomfortable with the hard-right turn that a lot of the Republican candidates have taken.”

With myriad competing factors and the massive uncertainty around a pandemic election, Squire said, it’s likely that only a handful of chambers will flip control.

“My guess is that it will probably be smaller than you might anticipate,” he said. “If you get six chambers that switch hands, that would be a big number. Ten would be huge. But I think most will stay pretty much where they are.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Green Infrastructure acts as a bridge for Indigenous reconciliation in Vancouver, BC
W 63rd Ave & Yukon St, Vancouver, BC V5X 2J2, Canada
Integrated city systems, unified data, & automation drive 316% increase in field efficiency
Seattle, WA, USA
Improved Water Quality and More Field Time Due to a 97% Reduction in Office Admin Work
Marin County, CA, USA

NEXT STORY: Cities Sued for Sweeping Homeless Encampments During the Pandemic

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.