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Tuesday’s elections left the fewest number of states with split control of legislatures in decades as Democratic and Republican-held seats changed hands.
Only Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire will now likely have divided state legislatures. The three states represent the lowest total with split control since 1944, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Although Republicans control the Virginia House and the state Senate is tied, NCSL considers the state to be undivided since the Republican lieutenant governor casts a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
Democrats flipped control of both chambers in Minnesota and Maine. They also now enjoy new majorities in the New Hampshire House, Oregon Senate, New York Senate and Colorado House. Political observers were particularly surprised with the shift in the 400-member New Hampshire House, where Democrats appear to have netted around 100 additional seats
Republicans appear to have swept into power in both the Arkansas House and Senate for the first time since the 1800s. The party also took control of the Alaska and Wisconsin state senates.
The 12 or 13 chambers likely to change partisan control aren't any more than a typical cycle. But the number of states with split legislative control has steadily declined in recent decades, said Tim Storey, NCSL’s elections analyst.
Throughout much of the country, partisan control of legislatures mirrors the red and blue makeup of the Electoral College, with the exception of a few Great Lakes states.
“A lot of it is the top of the ticket influence,” Storey said. “Some states clearly cast votes for one party or the other.”
Part of the historical shift away from divided control can also likely be traced to redistricting, says Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Party makeup of a chamber bears more resemblance to the other in states making strides in removing politics from the redistricting process.
“As these redistricting procedures are less partisan in more states, you couldn’t replicate that kind of split politically,” Reeher said.
Reeher also suspects tax increases to stave off budget cuts or other crises voters react to result in one party sweeping into power, further solidifying single-party control.
With fewer divided legislatures, some might expect states to more easily push through legislation. This isn’t necessarily the case, though, Reeher says. A governor may pit chambers against each other, and some parties are prone to infighting.
“It’s going to be more dependent on the general mood of state and its appetite for government activity and new programs,” he said.
Select Map: State House State Senate Dark red states represent Republicans gaining the highest percentage of seats; blue states correspond to greater Democratic gains. State Elections Click a state in the above map to display current breakdowns for each state legislature. Information is current as of Wednesday morning.