Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Maps: What’s the Real Red and Blue Balance of State Government?

Most of the states we live in appear to be solidly Republican or Democrat. These maps offer a chance to look beneath the surface at the shades of partisan control.

Satellite view of the U.S. from space.
With the midterm elections less than three months away, both Democrats and Republicans are working to highlight the risks communities face if they don’t prevail. The politicking may be reverberating in unintended ways; a new Pew survey finds that more than 1 in 4 Americans view both political parties unfavorably, four times as many as in 2002.

More than two thirds believe that the language and tone of political rhetoric has become more negative, less respectful and less grounded in reality. Coverage of politics, legislative acts and court decisions commonly emphasizes divisions in the culture, but how many really live each day in red or blue?

According to a “unity index” developed by Vanderbilt University researchers, disharmony is not far from its 40-year average and there are signs it “may be dissipating.” Most voters have similar views on issues that have become politically charged, whether abortion, climate action, gun control or national health insurance.

Calling a state “red” or “blue” doesn’t capture its balance of power in detail, whether the distribution of legislative seats or the affiliations of mayors in its large cities. Few states are monochromatic. Kentucky, for example, is a “red” state on the basis of its 2020 presidential vote, but it has a Democratic governor and a Republican minority on its Supreme Court.

In early August, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) convened a national summit in Denver. “I saw people of different political stripes sitting in the same rooms, listening to the same speakers, debating the same topics at their tables or in the halls,” says Ben Williams, elections and redistricting program principal for NCSL. “What I did not hear was partisan rancor.”

Dimensions of Power

It’s of interest to review where things stand as the midterms approach. Thirty-six states will elect new governors. The 2023 class of freshman state legislators is estimated to number around 1,000.

Views regarding which party will have an advantage in November have shifted in recent months, and are likely to shift again, says Williams. Cultural and economic issues are moving in cross-currents with one another, rising and falling in prominence in news cycles.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty this cycle, because there are so many different issues that are salient to voters,” he says. “We’re about 90 days away from the election; that’s an eternity in politics and we can’t really say where things are going to trend for the next three months.”

The series of maps below give views of party control from various perspectives, including the predominance of Democratic mayors in the nation’s largest cities in both red and blue states. Eight in 10 Americans live in urban areas, and their choices for local leaders are another example of the limitations of these labels.

Even the reddest state or the bluest state has a significant number of people from the other party living in it. “It’s really a country that’s shades of purple,” Williams says. “It can be depolarizing for a person to understand that even though they wear a red jersey or a blue jersey, not everyone around them agrees with them.”
Government Technology Data Reporter Andrew Adams contributed to this article.

Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
From Our Partners