The Two Electorates and State Government

As understanding of the “two electorates” phenomenon slowly spreads to a commentariat accustomed to treating every election as likely to predict the next one, there’s a subsidiary issue that undermines the sense of an evenly balanced country in which Republicans dominate midterms and Democrats dominate presidential elections. Trouble is, this symmetry does not extend to state governments (or to local governments, which will have to be the subject of a separate post down the road). Thirty-six governorships (all but one for a four-year term) are decided during midterm elections only, and another four are decided in off-year elections (in addition, a small but significant plurality of state legislative seats are elected in midterms or off-years as opposed to presidential years). Unsurprisingly, then, Republicans have been slowly gathering strength at the state level recently, a trend that (like GOP control of the U.S. House) was reinforced by the coincidence that the election year just prior to the last decennial redistricting was a midterm.

In any event, as WaPo’s Aaron Blake reports, Republicans now have “trifecta” control (the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature) in 25 states (including technically non-partisan Nebraska), with Democrats controlling just 6 (though the number will rise to seven when Vermont’s Democratic legislature reelects Democratic governor Peter Shumlin, who failed to get the required majority last wee). And this isn’t just a matter of small state domination. Blake estimates that almost exactly half of Americans live in a Republican “trifecta” state (only 16% live in Democratic “trifecta” states, and that number drops all the way to three-and-a-half-percent if you take out California, which has significant constitutional restrictions on the power of the Democratic majority).

So again, maybe Democrats can hang onto the presidency and occasionally the Senate or House if the current “two electorates” pattern continues perpetually. But it’s not a recipe for success in the states, and that’s bad news on a lot of fronts, including House redistricting.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.