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Commentary By Louis Jacobson

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September 14, 2023

The Republicans’ ‘Excess Seat’ Edge in State Legislatures By Louis Jacobson

Republicans punch above their weight compared to presidential results in more places than Democrats.


— We analyzed 48 states to see which have the most lopsided state Senate and state House chambers compared to how the state voted for president.

— Both parties have some states in which the legislative breakdown significantly exaggerates the patterns of the presidential vote.

— For Democrats, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have the most “excess seats” above the presidential vote threshold. For Republicans, the list is both longer and more varied, with Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin standing out as at least somewhat competitive states where the Republicans have large excess seat advantages.

— In all, Republicans have proven much more adept than Democrats at leveraging presidential vote patterns into even larger majorities in state legislative chambers. The GOP has achieved significant levels of excess seats in about three times as many states as the Democrats have.

— Gerrymandering is one reason for this, but it probably doesn’t explain the exaggerated legislative majorities in many states. Rather, the phenomenon of excess seats appears to be a natural consequence of minority parties being doomed into irrelevance once they start consistently losing presidential and statewide races, sapping their ability to recruit candidates and build party infrastructure.

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June 22, 2023

The 2023 and 2024 Attorney General and Secretary of State Races By Louis Jacobson

Amidst several safe-state races with key primaries, competitive contests in North Carolina and Pennsylvania loom.


— The once low-profile contests for attorney general and secretary of state have become increasingly important for driving policy outcomes in the states, particularly in setting the rules for how elections are run.

— The current campaign cycle doesn’t promise quite as much drama as there was in 2022, when several key presidential battleground states played host to tight contests between Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump and more mainstream Democrats.

— For the current 2023-2024 cycle, we are starting our handicapping by assigning 18 of the 23 races to either the Safe Republican or the Safe Democratic category. Still, a number of these states will undergo wide-open primaries with different ideological flavors of candidates. And in the general election, we see three races as highly competitive: the attorney general and secretary of state races in North Carolina and the AG race in Pennsylvania.

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November 3, 2022

Secretary of State and Attorney General: What to Watch for Next Week in Key Statewide Contests By Louis Jacobson


— In our final pre-election handicapping of key down-ballot contests this year, we see 11 secretary of state races and 12 state attorney general races as competitive.

— The races attracting the most attention nationally, understandably, are those that involve Republican nominees who have questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Whether such candidates can win this year in such presidential battleground states as Arizona and Nevada could have a big impact on the 2024 presidential race.

— It remains to be seen whether these Trump-aligned candidates can ride the Republican midterm tailwind to victory, or whether GOP voters and GOP-leaning independents decide to pick and choose which Republicans they vote for this year.

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October 20, 2022

The (Updated) Battle for the Statehouses By Louis Jacobson

Chambers in key swing states like Michigan and Nevada get more competitive.


— In what we expect to be our final pre-election look at the nation’s legislatures, we are shifting our ratings for 7 chambers. We are moving 5 chambers in the Democrats’ direction, while 2 move in the Republicans’ direction.

— It’s important not to read too much into the imbalance in these shifts favoring the Democrats. The shifts reflect 2 major changes in the political environment since our last handicapping, which was published in May: the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and GOP primaries that anointed polarizing candidates aligned with former President Donald Trump for key top-of-the-ballot contests.

— Overall, the landscape for competitive state legislative chambers this year is fairly neutral, with Republicans playing defense in 7 of the 15 chambers we see as competitive and Democrats playing defense in 8. The Toss-up category includes 7 chambers, 3 currently held by Republicans and 4 held by Democrats.

— Several of the key battleground states with high-profile statewide races also have competitive legislative chambers, such as Arizona, Michigan, and Nevada.

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October 13, 2022

2022’s Ballot Measures By Louis Jacobson

States are set to vote on a range of measures dealing with abortion, elections, marijuana, and more.


— As happens every 2 years, voters across the country find a variety of ballot measures to vote on in 2022.

— The most closely watched issues will include abortion, with 3 states voting on protecting abortion rights and 2 others considering whether to impose limitations on abortion; election administration, including efforts to both expand and tighten voting rules; policy toward immigrants; and further expansion of legalized recreational marijuana.

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August 11, 2022

Secretary of State Races: Election Deniers Carry GOP Banner in Several Key States By Louis Jacobson


— With most primaries now complete, a majority of the nation’s competitive secretary of state races pit a Republican nominee aligned with former President Donald Trump against a relatively mainstream Democrat.

— This could benefit Democrats by being able to run against less electable Republicans — or it may not matter if a Republican wave crests high enough, carrying even the most controversial Republican nominees to victory. Either way, voters in many states will face a stark choice about how elections are run in the future.

— Looking at this year’s 27 secretary of state races, we find 10 that appear to be competitive between the parties, at least for now. In another 10 races, the GOP is in the driver’s seat, while in another 7 races, the Democrats have a significant edge.

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July 7, 2022

High Courts, High Stakes 2022’s top state supreme court races by Louis Jacobson


-- State supreme court contests often attract little public attention, but they can carry significant weight on policy, especially in an era when courts are having to weigh in on such divisive topics as abortion and election administration.

-- About two-thirds of the states have some type of state supreme court election on the ballot this year, but as of now, 8 states stand out as the likeliest to have at least one genuinely competitive race this fall: North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Montana, Michigan, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Arkansas.

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June 16, 2022

Governors: Escaping Public’s Wrath Even as So Many Others Draw Ire By Louis Jacobson

State chief executives continue to get high marks from voters even as party leaders, Congress do not.


— Virtually every measurement of public opinion shows that Americans are in a foul mood about their political leaders and institutions. But one group seems to have escaped this wrath: governors.

— State-level job approval polls from Morning Consult show that 92% of governors are “above water” with voters in their states — that is, they have higher approval ratings than they do disapproval ratings. With a handful of exceptions, the data from other pollsters back up the general pattern seen in the Morning Consult polling.

— The polling suggests that several Democratic governors who are considered particularly vulnerable in a Republican-leaning midterm environment have managed to put some distance between how voters see them and President Joe Biden, which could improve their chances of winning reelection.

— The reasons why governors seem to be faring relatively well in this sour environment may have to do with the nature of the most worrisome issues for voters today (which include a number of policies that governors don’t directly control, such as inflation) and relatively flush coffers due to federal aid (which is sparing governors from having to make unpopular cuts or raise taxes).

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May 19, 2022

The Battle for State Legislatures By Louis Jacobson

Looking for competition in sorted statehouses.


– In addition to usually facing midterm headwinds in federal races, the presidential party also often struggles in state legislative races in those years.

– However, Republicans have already made such impressive state legislative gains over the past dozen years that they do not have a ton of Democratic-held chambers to target.

–Republicans could plausibly flip chambers in states like Maine and Minnesota, while a better redistricting map could help Democrats in Michigan, a key battleground.

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April 28, 2022

How Minority Parties (Might) Compete in One-Party States By Louis Jacobson

Playing in other party’s primary or backing an independent candidate are two possible options.


— In an increasingly polarized nation, one party often dominates in a state while the other is seemingly consigned to permanent irrelevance. In such states, primary voters for the dominant party are able to flex their muscles to nominate a comparatively extreme candidate, who is all but assured a victory in the general election.

— One creative way that minority parties in at least some of these states could fight back is to stop running candidates for major offices like senator and governor, and instead encourage their voters to vote for the more moderate candidate in the dominant party’s primary. This is at least theoretically possible in states where primaries are “open” to all voters, rather than just those registered to the party in question.

— Another is to back an independent candidate instead of nominating their own candidate, as Democrats recently chose to do in Utah.

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March 10, 2022

Abortion Battlefields in a Potentially Post-Roe Political World By Louis Jacobson

Watch these states in the event of a landmark Supreme Court decision later this year.


— If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade later this year, it could hypothetically energize Democratic voters in the 2022 midterms. But it’s unclear whether abortion will become a big enough motivator for Democrats to overcome the historical pattern of unfavorable midterms for the party controlling the White House, particularly if concern about the coronavirus pandemic and inflation remains high.

— Our analysis suggests that 7 states are the likeliest to experience political tensions over abortion, because they have majorities or pluralities of voters who favor abortion rights but have GOP-led legislatures who may feel driven to restrict abortion access if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

— Each of these 7 states has a highly competitive gubernatorial or Senate race on tap for this fall, and several of them have 2 such races.

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February 10, 2022

Ranking the States Demographically, from Most Republican-Friendly to Most Democratic-Friendly By Louis Jacobson


— For all 50 states, we looked at 3 variables that are increasingly linked with partisan voting patterns: education level, race, and urbanization.

— When the states are rank-ordered by their composite scores on these 3 measures, the Republican-voting states for the 2020 presidential election cluster on one end of the spectrum, while the Democratic-voting states cluster at the other end, with many battleground states somewhere in the middle.

— In both the top (Republican) and bottom (Democratic) halves of our 1-through-50 list, only 5 out of 25 states broke ranks by voting for the presidential candidate who was at odds with the state’s demographic tendencies. This suggests that these 3 demographic factors have a strong influence on presidential voting behavior.

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January 27, 2022

The Challenges of Electing Governors and Lieutenant Governors Separately By Louis Jacobson


— In almost half the states, governors and lieutenant governors are either nominated separately, or else the official who is next in the line of succession is elected separately.

— This makes it reasonably common for the governor and lieutenant governor to come from separate parties. Currently, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Vermont fall into this category. Sometimes these pairings work smoothly; other times, they don’t.

— Even governors and lieutenant governors from the same party can have relationships that range from distant to acrimonious. There are recent examples of this phenomenon in Idaho and Rhode Island.

— In states where gubernatorial candidates cannot choose their running mates, it may be harder for them to win the governorship in the first place.

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July 8, 2021

Where Both Parties Overperform in the House By Louis Jacobson

Comparing how many seats they have versus how many the 2020 presidential results would have suggested.


— As we head into a once-a-decade redistricting cycle, we analyzed which states have one party that is currently overperforming in its House delegation compared to that party’s share of the 2020 presidential vote.

— Overall, the GOP has notched notable overperformances in 19 medium-to-large-sized states, compared to 11 for the Democrats. However, the total number of excess seats for each party from these states is roughly in balance, though Republicans have a slight edge: 32 for the GOP, 28 for the Democrats.

— The three biggest sources of excess seats for the GOP today — Texas, Ohio, and Florida — could provide additional excess seats in the coming redistricting round, given the fact that each state has unified Republican control of state government. The Democrats’ options for squeezing out additional seats are more limited because many of their biggest sources of excess seats have a commission system for redistricting.

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May 6, 2021

How the Senate’s Long-Term Equilibrium Could Shape Democratic Decisions on the Filibuster By Louis Jacobson


— A majority of states are now either solidly Republican or solidly Democratic on the presidential level, and the party a state prefers for president increasingly has a big edge in winning the state’s two Senate seats. Given these patterns, it’s possible to game out the basic contours of what the Senate “should” look like in the near future, barring some unexpected upheaval.

— Allocating Senate seats based on current presidential preferences produces an equilibrium of about 53 seats for the Republicans and 47 seats for the Democrats.

— This complicates the Democrats’ decision on whether to ditch the filibuster, because in a chamber where they may end up spending a lot of time in the minority in the future, ending the filibuster may destroy one of the few points of leverage the party would have.

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July 16, 2020

The Future Shape of the Senate By Louis Jacobson

How 2020 sets up 2022 and 2024.


— The Constitution divides the Senate into three “classes” that face the voters on six-year cycles. Under today’s political dynamics, the class that faced the voters in 2018 was favorable to the Republicans, while the class that faces the voters in 2020 is favorable to the Democrats.

— What about the class that faces the voters in 2022? Our analysis shows that this class is also favorable to the Democrats.

— If the Democrats manage to seize the Senate majority in 2020, the relatively pro-Democratic map in 2022 could insulate the party somewhat if Joe Biden is elected president and a midterm backlash benefiting the GOP emerges.

— The Democrats will need to run up the score in the Senate in both 2020 and 2022 if they are going to keep the majority past the 2024 elections, when the Republicans benefit from an extremely favorable map for their party.

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March 31, 2020

Virtual Conventions: Health Crisis Forces Both Parties, Particularly The Democrats, to Envision the Possibility By Louis Jacobson

Will there be Democratic and Republican conventions this summer? The coronavirus pandemic, and the social distancing needed to combat it, are putting these quadrennial festivities in doubt -- an unprecedented situation that is leaving party officials, politicians, and the media in a quandary, with a fast-ticking clock.

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January 23, 2020

Trump Not Immune to the Usual Down-Ballot Presidential Penalty By Louis Jacobson

But the Senate remains a bright spot for Republicans amidst decline elsewhere.


— After just three years in the White House, Donald Trump is seeing a significant erosion of down-ballot seats held by his party.

— This erosion puts Trump in good company — at least since World War II, presidents typically experience at least some erosion across his party’s numbers of U.S. Senate, U.S. House, gubernatorial, and state legislative seats.

— The best news for Trump and Republicans is that they have held their own in the category of races that is arguably most politically important: the Senate.

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January 2, 2020

Markey vs. Kennedy: Welcome To The Most Unusual Senate Primary In Decades By Louis Jacobson

There hasn't been another recent Senate primary challenge quite like it.


— Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is facing a strong primary challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D, MA-4) in 2020. While challenges to entrenched incumbent senators aren’t an everyday occurrence, the Markey-Kennedy race is especially unusual in recent Senate history

— Most senators who attract primary challenges are weakened in some way — they face questions about their advanced age, their party loyalty, or a brush with scandal — or else face a challenge on ideological grounds. Yet none of these factors fit the Markey-Kennedy contest.

— Over the past three decades, even the top-performing primary challengers had a no better than one-in-nine chance of ending up in the Senate. Yet at this point, Kennedy — bucking history — seems like a modest favorite in the race.

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October 24, 2019

The Trade War’s Risks for Trump By Louis Jacobson

Agriculture and manufacturing are significant industries in 2020’s most important states.


— Farmers and manufacturers account for a particularly large share of the economy in key battleground states, including ones that President Donald Trump won in 2016 and would need to win again in 2020 to secure a second term.

— However, the farm and factory sectors are facing economic strains from Trump’s trade policies. Agricultural output declined between 2017 and 2018 in all but one battleground state, and while manufacturing output increased in these states across the board between 2017 and 2018, it showed signs of slowing in most states during the first quarter of 2019.

— That said, anecdotal evidence suggests that cultural issues are outweighing economic factors, with these solidly Republican demographic groups sticking with the GOP, at least for now.