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  • Meagan Dorsch
    Director of Public Affairs
  • Jon Kuhl
    Public Affairs Manager
    Washington, D.C.
Nov. 7, 2012

History holds true in 2012 legislative elections

Democrats make substantial gains, but GOP holds onto 2010 victories and adds four chambers.

DENVER—In 20 of the past 28 presidential-cycle elections, the party winning the White House has gained seats in state legislatures. Thanks in large part to a Democratic gain of more than 100 seats in the New Hampshire House, it will be 21 of 29 winning years for the presidential party.

In the first state legislative election since redistricting, voters cast ballots in 44 states for men and women running for 6,034 state legislative seats. Democrats appear to have regained control of seven chambers that they had lost in 2010, but Republicans claimed four chambers previously controlled by the Democrats.

The biggest surprise of the election night was the New Hampshire House where Democrats won a majority. The preliminary numbers for the Granite State House are 217-177 (six undecided). Going into the election Republicans had a 288-102 margin, so the Democrats appear to have picked up at least 115 seats.

Thanks to an apparent historic victory in Arkansas, Republicans gained control of the old South, turning the once solidly Democratic 11 states of the Confederacy upside down.

Arkansas was probably the biggest prize for the GOP at the state level. Republicans switched the Senate, and the House has a tentative 51-49 Republican majority, including one seat with a 44-vote margin that is subject to a recount. If the House numbers hold, this will be the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans have controlled the Razorback State.

Republicans won back the Wisconsin Senate while holding onto the Assembly. The Badger State Senate had only been in the hands of Democrats for a few months since recalls switched Senate seats back in the summer.

The Alaska Senate and the Oregon House were both tied headed into Tuesday. In 2012, the Republicans took the Alaska Senate and Democrats took the House in Oregon. 

Democrats appear to have gained a narrow majority in the New York Senate. If this is the case, it is the second time since 1966 that Democrats have taken control of this chamber. Democrats now control both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion in the Empire State for only the second time since 1935, a feat they also accomplished from 2008 to 2010.

Democrats won back the Colorado House 37-28, giving the party control of the House, Senate and governor’ office. And Democrats have seized back control of both chambers in Minnesota and Maine. All four of those chambers went to Republicans in the wave election of 2010.

The 2012 state legislature partisan composition shows that the nation may have the lowest number of divided state legislatures in more than 30 years. Only Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Virginia have divided legislatures, but in Virginia, the lieutenant governor casts the tie-breaking vote, so it is fair to qualify Virginia as a unified Republican legislature leaving just three states with divided legislatures. The last time there were fewer divided legislatures was in 1928 when there were two.

The nation also gained one additional state legislative seat. The New York Senate grew from 62 to 63 as a result of a redistricting change, bringing the total number of state legislators to 7,383.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 7, here are the big numbers:

  • Pre-election 2012: 26 Republican Legislatures, 15 Democrat and 8 that were split.
  • Post-election 2012: 26 Republican Legislatures, 19 Democrat and 4 split.
  • Nebraska has a nonpartisan,  unicameral Legislature.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.