The week since the election has produced more takeaways than a pizza place on a Saturday night.
For states and their legislatures, the biggest headlines: Democrats overperformed expectations, and Republicans are still in control.
NCSL’s elections experts Ben Williams and Amanda Zoch drilled down into the whys and hows during an elections wrap-up session at NCSL’s Base Camp.
“Split control of state government nationwide continues its decline,” says Williams, a program principal in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program. “We used to see significant numbers of states split between one party or another and a governor of another party. That has continued to drop closer and closer to historic lows.
Split control of state government nationwide continues its decline. —Ben Williams, NCSL
“In the past we had up to a third being split. The consolidation of power you’re seeing at the federal level is also being seen at the state level.”
On average, Williams says, each election cycle averages 10-12 flips of chamber control.
“As of now—and they are still counting votes in several chambers—it is looking like a 3-1 split. Democrats flipped the Michigan House and Senate and the Minnesota Senate; the Pennsylvania Senate has been called for Republicans.”
In the Pennsylvania House, The Associated Press has called 101 seats for Democrats and 100 for Republicans. It takes 102 seats to elect a speaker. “One (outstanding race) is within 15 votes and one is within 150. There are hundreds of provisional and overseas ballots still out,” Williams says.
Republicans control 57 chambers and Democrats control 39, with the Pennsylvania House and the Alaska House and Senate still outstanding.
Republicans lost a trifecta (control of both chambers and the governorship) in Arizona, where Democrat Katie Hobbs succeeded a term-limited Republican. Democrats picked up trifectas in Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts and Maryland, and lost one in Nevada.
Alaska is still undecided, though the state’s Republicans and Democrats frequently form coalitions rather than caucusing directly with their parties.
“We considered it functionally Democratic in the House with a Republican Senate and governor,” Williams says.
Of several different framings regarding the election, Williams stresses the further consolidation of states President Joe Biden carried in 2020 versus the ones carried by former President Donald Trump.
“Democrats flipped the Michigan and Minnesota legislatures and picked up governorships in Massachusetts, Maryland and Arizona. On the flip side, Republicans did well in Trump states. They picked up veto-proof majorities in Florida and Ohio and knocked off the only leader to lose, West Virginia Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin.”
Female legislators should hold their 30% share of seats, he says, with significant increases in Delaware, Florida and Nebraska.
Dizzying Array of Ballot Measures
Voters put the hammer down on 133 ballot issues on a dizzying array of subjects.
“Voters said yes to pro-choice policies, higher wages and new election policies. They said no to sports betting and split on recreational marijuana,” Zoch says.
“In the wake of the Supreme Court Dobbs decision, abortion is a huge issue. There were six abortion issues on the ballot and pro-choice advocates prevailed in all of them. Five of six (except Michigan) came from legislatures.” The court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June held that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
In health-related issues, Arizona limited interest rates on health care debt, Oregon said yes to establishing a constitutional right to affordable health care. “That was the first of its kind in the nation,” she says, “and South Dakota became the 39th state to expand Medicaid.”
Voters split on recreational cannabis, with Maryland and Missouri approving it and Arkansas and both Dakotas turning it down.
“There was a small trend to remove language from constitutions regarding slavery. Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont approved. Louisiana rejected it after the sponsor spoke out against it because of the language,” Zoch says.
Minimum wage increases passed in Nebraska, the District of Columbia and Nevada. Illinois approved a constitutional right to collective bargaining, and Tennessee affirmed the right to work in its constitution. Alabama, New Mexico and New York approved infrastructure spending.
Mark Wolf is a senior editor at NCSL.