- Like in Congress, Democrats make significant gains in state legislatures across the U.S. in the 2018 midterms, netting about 250 seats, according to early estimates
- This shift to the opposition party mirrors the trajectory of election results in the eight years after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.
- Democratic gains will likely lead to new state taxes, as well as a reshaped electoral map after redistricting in 2020.
What happened in the states
The trend that saw Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections was relevant at the state level as well. Nationwide, Democrats made significant gains in state legislatures, netting 308 seats, according to a final tally by Ballotpedia.
Pending the results in Georgia, the Democrats picked up seven new governorships in 2018 versus only one for the GOP. State legislative chambers made a similar, if less drastic shift, as Democrats netted control of five more chambers, raising their total from 32 to 37, while Republican’s nationwide dominance of chambers slipped from 67 to 65.
These gains resulted in the trifecta status of 10 states changing. A trifecta state is one in which the same party holds a majority in both legislative chambers as well as the governorship. Republicans, entering the midterms with 26 trifecta states, saw this total decline to 22, while the number of states governed by Democratic trifectas grew from eight to 14, leaving only 13 states with some form of divided government.
While these results represent a significant shift away from the GOP’s dominance at the state and local level in recent years, they are not necessarily surprising in light of the past few decades of voting history.
“Several of the victories may have had as much to do with historical voting patterns as with President Trump,” wrote Steven Malanga, senior editor of City Journal. He notes that in some of the states where Democrats took back the governorship from Republicans, such as Maine and Michigan, voters have a history of handing control to the opposite party every eight years.
Malanga also points out that the shift to the opposition party at the state level also mirrors the trajectory of election results in the eight years after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. During this time Republicans increased their total number of governorships from 22 to 33 and more than doubled the number of statehouses under their control from 14 to 31, as the party focused on local organization and tapped into support from well-funded, pro-business groups.
What it means for the future
Perhaps the most immediate question for Americans is whether Democrats, having extended their control across more states, will respond as they did after their victories in 2008 by raising taxes. This was a major theme leading up to the midterms, with Democratic candidates ranging from Tony Evers in Wisconsin to Ned Lamont in Connecticut to J.B. Pritzker in Illinois called for raising taxes during their campaigns.
“Prompted by new taxes in a number of Democratic states, 2009 turned out to be a record year for state tax hikes — with a net of nearly $29 billion,” wrote Malanga. “With budgets today squeezed in many states thanks to the slow growth of tax revenues, along with rising costs (especially Medicaid), there’s reason to believe that something similar is on the horizon.”
In addition to the ramifications for taxpayers during the coming legislative sessions, the control of state chambers also has huge ramifications for which lawmakers will be representing Americans in the House of Representatives.
“If you were thinking about the 2020 elections and the redistricting the happens afterwards, one thing you can do is pay attention to state legislative elections and gubernatorial elections. They’re very important for how these lines and new districts end up being drawn,” Ballotpedia staff writer Rob Oldham said during a webinar about state elections last week.
This is because the redistricting process in most states still runs through the legislature. If one party controls the process, they can create a map of Congressional districts in their state that favors their party. Single party control is particularly significant for more populous states like New York and Illinois, which now have Democratic trifectas, and for Texas, Florida, and Georgia, which will likely have GOP trifectas.
If nothing were to change in state governments in 2020, 15 or 16 GOP trifectas would be drawing congressional district lines in the 2020 redistricting process, versus only eight Democratic trifectas.
“Even though these elections can seem inconsequential — you might not even know the name of your state legislator,” Oldham said, “it’s still critical information for what our political makeup is going to look like for the next decade.”
Other states with large populations are important to watch for other reasons. Pennsylvania, for instance, is under divided government, setting the stage for a battle over redistricting. Ohio has recently implemented a bipartisan redistricting system, and California and Michigan have independent systems, which leaders and partisans from both sides will surely be watching with great interest and much scrutiny when it comes time to redraw district lines.
This story was updated on December 28, 2018 with Ballotpedia’s final state election tallies.
Image Credit: “I Voted Republican Today” by PJ Nelson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Andrew Collins cut his teeth in politics as a congressional campaign staffer during the 2012 election. Since then he has worked in Washington, D.C. as the digital media manager and as a staff writer at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, and is a recent graduate of the Trinity Fellows Academy (class of ’17). His work has appeared in Politico, US News & World Report, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Caller, and The Hill. He lives in Seattle, WA.