Sabato's Crystal Ball

2014 State Legislative Election Wrap

Tim Storey, Guest Columnist, Sabato's Crystal Ball November 6th, 2014

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After a day of double checking partisan composition numbers in the more than 6,000 legislative races this year, the extent of Republican success in this year’s legislative and governor’s elections is mostly clear. Suffice it to say, it was a banner election for the GOP.

Republicans ran the proverbial table, taking the majority in 11 legislative chambers previously held by Democrats. Those chambers were: Colorado Senate (conceivable that Dems could still hold on after recounts), Maine Senate, Minnesota House, Nevada Assembly, Nevada Senate, New Hampshire House, New York Senate, New Mexico House, Washington Senate, and the West Virginia House and Senate.

Republicans are now in charge of 68 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers and control 30 state legislatures. It is the most legislatures they have held in over 150 years, matching the previous high point after the 1920 election.

For governors, Republicans netted three after switching seats in Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts (although they might lose Alaska if Bill Walker, an independent, holds on to defeat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell). Democrat Tom Wolf won a GOP governorship in Pennsylvania.

Factoring in all of those changes, here are the bottom line numbers (the Nebraska unicameral legislature is nonpartisan):

Legislatures: 30 R, 11 D and 8 divided

Chambers: 68 R, 30 D

Governors: 31 R, 17 D and 2 undecided (Alaska and Vermont, where the Democratic-controlled legislature is likely to reelect Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin)

State government control: 23 R, 6 D, 18 divided and 2 undecided (Alaska and Vermont)

It appears that Republicans will have a net gain of between 300-350 seats and control over 4,100 of the nation’s 7,383 legislative seats. Republicans gained seats in every region of the country and in all but about a dozen legislative chambers that were up this year.

Remarkably, given the Republican wave that swept across the nation, Republicans emerged from the election controlling exactly the same number of state governments as they controlled before the election. Democrats lost many chambers and governors, but most of those states now have divided state government, and Alaska could still stay Republican if Parnell pulls out a victory. He currently trails Walker by more than 3,000 votes. The sharp increase in divided state governments could lead to gridlock. However, legislators and governors are more likely to seek compromise especially when it involves the budget since all states but one must pass balanced budgets every year.

For the latest state by state breakdown of legislative partisan composition, go to this page on the NCSL website.

Tim Storey, one of the country’s top experts on state-level politics, is an elections analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. He has been researching legislative elections and redistricting for more than 20 years.