After years of losses, Democrats are hoping for a wave of wins across state legislatures this fall. Controlling the state legislature gives a party more sway during redistricting, and it also lets it drive state law on divisive issues such as abortion, guns and voting rights. Since the 2010 midterms, Republicans have consistently gained seats and control at the state level. Now Democrats plan to reverse the trend.

Republicans have legislative control in most states, but Democrats can take advantage of weak spots

Control of upper and lower houses

Democrat

Split

Republican

No elections

ME

NH

WA

VT

MT

ND

OR

MN

MA

ID

WI

NY

SD

RI

WY

MI

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

OH

NV

IN

IL

UT

DE

CO

WV

CA

MD

VA

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

AR

SC

NM

AL

GA

MS

TX

AK

LA

HI

FL

Share of legislature

100%

Democrat

80

60

50

60

80

100%

Republican

Lower House

WA

ME

MT

ND

OR

MN

ID

WI

NY

SD

WY

MI

PA

IA

NE

OH

NV

IN

IL

UT

WV

CO

CA

VA

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

AR

SC

NM

AL

GA

MS

AK

TX

LA

HI

FL

Upper House

WA

ME

MT

ND

OR

MN

ID

WI

NY

SD

WY

MI

PA

IA

NE

OH

NV

IN

IL

UT

CO

WV

CA

VA

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

AR

SC

NM

AL

GA

MS

TX

AK

LA

HI

FL

Control of upper and lower houses

Democrat

Split

Republican

No elections

Maine

N.H.

Wash.

Vt.

Mont.

N.D.

Ore.

Minn.

Mass.

Idaho

Wis.

N.Y.

S.D.

R.I.

Wyo.

Mich.

Conn.

Pa.

Iowa

Neb.

N.J.

Ohio

Nev.

Ind.

Ill.

Utah

Del.

W.Va.

Colo.

Calif.

Md.

Va.

Kan.

Mo.

Ky.

N.C.

Tenn.

Okla.

Ariz.

Ark.

S.C.

N.M.

Ala.

Miss.

Ga.

La.

Texas

Alaska

Hawaii

Fla.

Share of legislature

100%

Democrat

80

60

50

60

80

100%

Republican

Lower House

Upper House

Control of upper and lower houses

Democrat

Split

Republican

No elections

Maine

N.H.

Wash.

Vt.

Mont.

N.D.

Ore.

Minn.

Mass.

Idaho

Wis.

N.Y.

S.D.

R.I.

Wyo.

Mich.

Conn.

Pa.

Iowa

Neb.

N.J.

Ohio

Nev.

Ind.

Ill.

Utah

Del.

W.Va.

Colo.

Calif.

Md.

Va.

Kan.

Mo.

Ky.

N.C.

Tenn.

Okla.

Ariz.

Ark.

S.C.

N.M.

Ala.

Miss.

Ga.

La.

Texas

Alaska

Hawaii

Fla.

Share of legislature

100%

Democrat

80

60

50

60

80

100%

Republican

Lower House

Upper House

Control of upper and lower houses

Democrat

Split

Republican

No elections

Maine

N.H.

Wash.

Vt.

Mont.

N.D.

Minn.

Ore.

Mass.

Idaho

Wis.

N.Y.

S.D.

R.I.

Wyo.

Mich.

Conn.

Pa.

Iowa

Neb.

N.J.

Ohio

Nev.

Ind.

Ill.

Utah

Del.

W.Va.

Colo.

Calif.

Md.

Va.

Kan.

Mo.

Ky.

N.C.

Tenn.

Okla.

Ariz.

Ark.

S.C.

N.M.

Ala.

Ga.

Miss.

Texas

Alaska

La.

Hawaii

Fla.

Share of legislature

100%

Democrat

80

60

50

60

80

100%

Republican

Lower House

Maine

Wash.

Mont.

N.D.

Minn.

Ore.

N.Y.

Idaho

Wis.

S.D.

Mich.

Wyo.

Iowa

Pa.

Neb.

Ohio

Nev.

Utah

Ill.

Ind.

W.Va.

Colo.

Va.

Kan.

Mo.

Calif.

Ky.

N.C.

Tenn.

Ariz.

Okla.

Ark.

S.C.

N.M.

Ga.

Miss.

Texas

Ala.

La.

Alaska

La.

Fla.

Hawaii

Fla.

Upper House

Maine

Wash.

Mont.

N.D.

Minn.

Ore.

Idaho

Wis.

N.Y.

S.D.

Wyo.

Mich.

Pa.

Iowa

Neb.

Ohio

Nev.

Ind.

Ill.

Utah

W.Va.

Colo.

Calif.

Va.

Kan.

Mo.

Ky.

N.C.

Tenn.

Okla.

Ariz.

Ark.

S.C.

N.M.

Ala.

Ga.

Miss.

Texas

Alaska

La.

Hawaii

Fla.

Control of upper and lower houses

Democrat

Split

Republican

No elections

ME

NH

WA

VT

MT

ND

OR

MN

MA

ID

WI

NY

SD

RI

WY

MI

CT

PA

IA

NE

NJ

OH

NV

IN

IL

UT

DE

CO

WV

CA

VA

KS

MD

MO

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

AR

SC

NM

AL

GA

MS

TX

AK

LA

HI

FL

Share of legislature

100%

Democrat

80

60

50

60

100%

Republican

80

Lower House

WA

MT

ND

OR

MN

ID

WI

NY

SD

MI

WY

PA

IA

NE

OH

NV

IN

IL

UT

CO

WV

VA

CA

MO

KS

KY

NC

TN

OK

AZ

AR

NM

SC

AL

MS

GA

LA

TX

AK

FL

HI

Upper House

WA

MT

ND

OR

MN

ID

WI

NY

SD

MI

WY

PA

IA

NE

OH

NV

IN

IL

UT

CO

VA

CA

KS

MO

KY

NC

TN

OK

AR

AZ

SC

NM

AL

MS

GA

LA

TX

AK

FL

HI

Nebraska is a unicameral state legislature. Due to coalitions across parties, Alaska’s lower house is functionally controlled by Democrats and New York’s upper house is functionally controlled by Republicans.

Democratic contenders will face entrenched Republican control in many states. Republicans have control of both the House and Senate in 31 states, compared with just 14 for Democrats. “Well over 90 percent of incumbents will win in November,” said Tim Storey, director of state services for the National Conference of State Legislatures, in a recent talk.

With incumbents widely favored, the best chance for Democrats to gain state House or Senate control is where they already have a near-majority of seats or where incumbents are not seeking reelection.

Democrats are running everywhere

Percentage of state legislative races with a

Democratic or Republican candidate

90%

87%

80%

80%

79%

78%

70%

1998

2002

2006

2010

2014

2018

Percentage of state legislative races with a

Democratic or Republican candidate

90%

87%

80%

80%

78%

79%

70%

1998

2002

2006

2010

2014

2018

Percentage of state legislative races with a Democratic or Republican candidate

90%

87%

80%

80%

78%

79%

70%

1998

2002

2006

2010

2014

2018

Percentage of state legislative races with

a Democratic or Republican candidate

87%

90%

80%

80%

79%

78%

70%

1998

2018

Percentage of state legislative races with a Democratic or Republican candidate

90%

87%

80%

80%

78%

79%

70%

1998

2002

2006

2010

2014

2018

To win elections, you need to run candidates. And Democrats have more state legislative candidates than anytime in the past two decades — 5,349 this year as of September, compared with 4,741 Republicans. Republicans had fielded more candidates than Democrats in the past six election cycles, and Democrats are even ahead of Republican candidate counts in 2010, an election in which the GOP made huge gains at the state and federal level.

The party that doesn’t hold the presidency typically gets a midterm boost

State legislative seats gained by party

in presidential and midterm election years

Presidential year

Midterms

+400 seats

+400 seats

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisen-

hower

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

Carter

Reagan

H.W.

Bush

Clinton

G.W.

Bush

Obama

Trump

State legislative seats gained by party

in presidential and midterm election years

Presidential year

Midterms

+400 seats

+400 seats

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisen-

hower

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

Carter

Reagan

H.W. Bush

Clinton

G.W. Bush

Obama

Trump

State legislative seats gained by party

in presidential and midterm election years

Presidential year

Midterms

+400 seats

+400 seats

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisenhower

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

Carter

Reagan

H.W. Bush

Clinton

G.W. Bush

Obama

Trump

State legislative seats gained by party in presidential and midterm election years

Presidential year

Midterms

+400 seats

+400 seats

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisenhower

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

Carter

Reagan

H.W. Bush

Clinton

G.W. Bush

Obama

Trump

State legislative seats gained by party in presidential and midterm election years

Presidential year

Midterms

+400 seats

+400 seats

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisenhower

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

Carter

Reagan

H.W. Bush

Clinton

G.W. Bush

Obama

Trump

In nearly every recent midterm, the president’s party has faced losses at the state level. In 2002 was the rare instance where the president’s party, Republicans, gained seats across state legislatures. “The popularity of the president has a three times greater impact on who can win a legislative election than the popularity of the legislators themselves,” Storey says.

Republican districts that voted for Clinton present opportunities for Democrats

Republican representatives

whose district voted for Clinton.

0-10

10-20

+20 points

(Difference between Trump and Clinton in 2016.)

Democratic representatives

whose district voted for Trump.

0-10

10-20

+20 points

States that could flip from Republican to

Democrat control of the state’s lower house.

STATE UPPER HOUSE

New

Hampshire

Colorado

Connecticut

Maine

Republican representatives whose district voted for Clinton.

0-10

10-20

+20 points

(Difference between Trump and Clinton in 2016.)

Democratic representatives whose district voted for Trump.

0-10

10-20

+20 points

States that could flip from Republican to Democrat control of the state’s lower house.

North Dakota is a mostly

Republican state but does

have nine state Senate districts

represented by Democrats.

More than half of those districts

strongly supported Trump

in the 2016 general election.

New Hampshire, Maine and

Connecticut are New England

states that are likely to flip their

state Senate from Republican

to Democrat, according to an

analysis from election analyst

Dr. Carl E. Klarner.

STATE UPPER HOUSE

California is represented

by Republican state senators

in Orange county and areas

north of San Diego, as well

as parts of the Central Valley.

These areas supported Clinton

in the 2016 election.

Colorado’s state Senate has

17 seats up for election this

year, 10 of which are held by

Republicans. If Democrats can

gain two seats, they could

control both legislative houses

as well as the governor’s office.

Republican representatives whose district voted for Clinton.

0-10

10-20

+20 points

(Difference between Trump and Clinton in 2016.)

Democratic representatives whose district voted for Trump.

0-10

10-20

+20 points

States that could flip from Republican to Democrat control of the state’s lower house.

North Dakota is a mostly Republican

state but does have nine state Senate

districts represented by Democrats.

More than half of those districts

strongly supported Trump

in the 2016 general election.

New Hampshire, Maine and

Connecticut are New England states

that are likely to flip their state Senate

from Republican to Democrat, according

to an analysis from election analyst

Dr. Carl E. Klarner.

STATE UPPER HOUSE

California is represented by

Republican state senators in

Orange county and areas north

of San Diego, as well as parts of

the Central Valley. These areas

supported Clinton in the 2016 election.

Colorado’s state Senate has 17 seats

up for election this year, 10 of which are

held by Republicans. If Democrats can

gain two seats, they could control both

legislative houses as well as the

governor’s office.

Republican representatives whose district voted for Clinton.

Democratic representatives whose district voted for Trump.

0-10

10-20

+20 points (Difference between Trump and Clinton in 2016.)

0-10

10-20

+20 points

States that could flip from Republican to Democrat control of the state’s lower house.

North Dakota is a mostly Republican state but does

have nine state Senate districts represented by Democrats.

More than half of those districts strongly supported Trump

in the 2016 general election.

New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut are New England

states that are likely to flip their state Senate from Republican

to Democrat, according to an analysis from election analyst

Dr. Carl E. Klarner.

STATE UPPER HOUSE

Note: No data available for Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama

California is represented by Republican state senators in Orange

county and areas north of San Diego, as well as parts of the

Central Valley. These areas supported Clinton in the 2016 election.

Colorado’s state Senate has 17 seats up for election this

year, 10 of which are held by Republicans. If Democrats can

gain two seats, they could control both legislative houses

as well as the governor’s office.

STATE LOWER HOUSE

New

Hampshire

Arizona

Michigan

Note: No data available for Nebraska, Arkansas,

Mississippi and Alabama

Note: No data available for Nebraska, Arkansas,

Mississippi and Alabama

Michigan Democrats need

to flip nine seats to gain control

of the state’s House of

Representatives. Republicans

have held both houses and the

governor’s office since 2011.

Vermont is represented by

Republicans in about a third

of the House districts. More

than two-thirds of those

districts went for Clinton in

the 2016 general election.

STATE LOWER HOUSE

Arizona Republicans have

maintained control of the state’s

House of Representatives since

1966, but Democrats may have

a shot to flip the House this

election if they can flip

several Clinton-voting districts.

New Hampshire’s House

was won by Republicans in

2014, and they maintained

control in 2016. But 17% of

Republican representatives

serve districts that voted for

Clinton, but have Republican

representatives.

Note: No data available for Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama

Michigan Democrats need to flip nine

seats to gain control of the state’s

House of Representatives.

Republicans have held both houses

and the governor's office since 2011.

Vermont is represented by Republicans

in about a third of the House districts.

More than two-thirds of those districts

went for Clinton in the 2016 general

election.

STATE LOWER HOUSE

Arizona Republicans have

maintained control of the state’s

House of Representatives since

1966, but Democrats may have

a shot to flip the House this

election if they can flip

several Clinton-voting districts.

New Hampshire’s House was won

by Republicans in 2014, and they

maintained control in 2016. But 17%

of Republican representatives serve

districts that voted for Clinton, but

have Republican representatives.

Note: No data available for Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama

Michigan Democrats need to flip nine seats to gain control

of the state’s House of Representatives. Republicans have

held both houses and the governor’s office since 2011.

Vermont is represented by Republicans in about a third of

the House districts. More than two-thirds of those districts

went for Clinton in the 2016 general election.

STATE LOWER HOUSE

Note: No data available for Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama

New Hampshire’s House was won by Republicans in 2014,

and they maintained control in 2016. But 17% of Republican

representatives serve districts that voted for Clinton, but

have Republican representatives.

Arizona Republicans have maintained control of the state’s

House of Representatives since 1966, but Democrats may

have a shot to flip the House this election if they can flip

several Clinton-voting districts.

For most state legislative districts, the legislator’s party aligns with how the district voted in the 2016 presidential election. But Republican state legislators whose district voted for Clinton in 2016 could present opportunities for Democratic challengers in the midterms. There are plenty of seats with Democratic legislators that voted for Trump as well, but these are safer in what is expected to be a Democratic wave year.

More Republicans are unable to run because of term limits

Democratic and Republican state legislators that

have reached term limits

150 state representatives

127

124

115

100

85

50

0

2010

2014

2018

100 state senators

66

62

55

28

0

2010

2014

2018

Democratic and Republican state legislators that

have reached term limits

150 state representatives

150 state senators

127

115

124

100

62

66

85

55

50

28

0

2018

2010

2014

2018

2010

2014

Democratic and Republican state legislators that have reached term limits

150 state representatives

150 state senators

127

124

115

100

85

66

62

55

50

28

0

2010

2014

2018

2010

2014

2018

Many Republicans can’t seek reelection due to term limits

Democratic and Republican state legislators that have reached term limits

150 state representatives

150 state senators

127

124

115

100

85

66

62

55

50

28

0

2010

2014

2018

2010

2014

2018

Democratic and Republican state

legislators that have reached term limits

150 state representatives

127

124

115

100

85

50

0

2010

2014

2018

100 state senators

66

62

55

28

0

2010

2014

2018

In 15 states, legislatures face term limits in office. In some states, this puts Republican majorities at risk, given how big of an advantage incumbents have in state-level elections. In Michigan, Republicans have controlled the senate for over 25 years and hold a supermajority. But 26 of 38 senators will be unable to run because of term limits, 19 of whom are Republican. The Democrats are not expected to flip the Senate but are likely to break the supermajority, according to an analysis from election analyst Dr. Carl E. Klarner. They have a better chance of flipping the house, where over a fifth of incumbents can’t run because of term limits.

The party that wins control over state Houses and Senates this fall will be well positioned to shape redistricting and laws for a host of divisive issues. Democrats and Republicans are also vying for governorships and attorney general positions to further direct state policy and law. Voters will also have the chance this fall, through ballot initiatives in 26 states, to directly vote on the issues themselves.

In a previous version of this article, the map “State Lower House”, wrongly stated the number of Democrats needed to flip control of the state’s House of Representatives as 17. The actual number is nine. The map titled “Republicans have legislative control in most states, but Democrats can take advantage of weak spots” incorrectly showed Republicans as having legislative control over Alaska. In fact, control is split.

About this story

Data on control of state legislatures is from National Conference of State Legislatures. Share of legislative power comes from Ballotpedia. Proportion of republican and democratic candidates running was derived from Dr. Klaner’s State Legislative Election Returns data and Ballotpedia. Party gains in presidential and midterm election years was calculated using Dr. Klaner’s State Partisan Balance Data, Open States and Ballotpedia. 2016 presidential returns by legislative districts are available from DailyKos. Term limits are from Ballotpedia. Forecasts are from election analyst Dr. Carl E. Klarner

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