2016 State Legislative Elections Preview

As a follow up to our earlier blog on the gubernatorial elections, we want to now focus on the over 6,000 out of 7,383 total seats in the 50 state legislatures that will be up for grabs this fall, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Please note that there are no state legislative elections this year (not including special elections) in Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan Senate, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia.

Recent Electoral History

The 2008 through 2014 state legislative elections saw a net Republican gain of 816 seats, which trails only the 1920-22 record of 1,142 Republican seats. In terms of changing control of legislative chambers, 2010 saw 24 chambers move from Democratic to Republican control. In 2012, Democrats gained 8 chambers, but lost 5 others, and in 2014, Republicans picked up 11. As the map below shows, 26 of the state legislatures with elections this year are currently controlled by Republicans, 9 are controlled by Democrats, and 9 have divided control of the chambers.


Looking at state legislative chambers with a relatively small Democratic or Republican majority based on MultiState's widely used 2016 Governors and Legislatures chart, combined with target chambers from the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC) and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), the chambers to watch this year are:

Republicans narrowly control the Colorado Senate (18 R and 17 D), where half the seats are up for re-election. In the House, the RLCC is aiming to flip Democrats' tenuous 3 seat advantage (34 Democrats to 31 Republicans).

The Connecticut Senate, currently made up of 21 Democrats and 15 Republicans, may see that gap tighten, due mostly to the Governor's low approval ratings.

The Delaware Senate, with 12 Democrats and 9 Republicans, is a long shot to flip, but worth watching due to the relative closeness of this chamber.

It will be difficult for Democrats to make much more than a dent in the large majority enjoyed by Republicans in the House (81-39). However, a large presidential election year voter turnout is expected to help the party trim the GOP's narrower, 12-seat advantage (26-14) in the state Senate down to single digits.

Democrats control the Iowa Senate with 26 seats to Republicans' 24, and 25 of the seats in the chamber are up this year. The Iowa Senate can be prone to regular swings in party control, although the Democrats have maintained a close majority the last few cycles. The RLCC has the Senate as a top target to flip this cycle.

Democrats already hold the House in Maine (78-69), and the party is targeting the Senate for a flip. There are currently 15 Democrats and 20 Republicans, with all seats up this cycle.

The Michigan House is being targeted by the DLCC, where they will look to narrow the gap between Republicans (62 seats) and Democrats (45 seats).

Republicans hold a minuscule 10-9 seat advantage in the Nevada Senate, with Democrats confident they can take over half of the 11 Senate seats on the ballot this year and flip the upper chamber.

New Hampshire
In the Senate, Republicans hold a tenuous 14-10 advantage, with all seats up. On the House side, yes, the margins are big, but so are the swings in the country's largest state legislative chamber (162 Democrats and 236 Republicans).

New Mexico
For the first time in 60 years, Republicans in 2014 won a majority of seats in the House, although Democrats continue to control the Senate as they have for all but a handful of years in the 1980's since the Great Depression. The GOP's four-seat (37-33) House edge is a major target for Democrats to flip back to their control, particularly with GOP Gov. Susana Martinez's popularity slipping and the top of the Republican ticket not predicted to fare too well in New Mexico.

New York
Historically, the Assembly in New York is controlled by Democrats, and the state Senate by Republicans. This decade, the Senate has been controlled by a coalition of 31 Republicans, five Independent Democrats, and one “regular” Democrat. Democrats have a good shot to win control of the upper chamber this year outright and bring the Independent Democrats back into the fold.

The Washington Senate has a narrow Republican majority (25-24), with 26 of the seats up for re-election this cycle. The RLCC is targeting the Senate to solidify their majority, as well as flip the House, which currently has 50 Democrats and 48 Republicans.

West Virginia
Republicans won control of the West Virginia House and Senate in 2015 for the first time since the 1930's. The GOP is expected to turn the recent success into a trend and widen the narrow margins they earned last election. Republicans now hold and 18-16 advantage in the Senate; and 64-36 in the House.

The Wisconsin Senate is currently made up of 14 Democrats and 19 Republicans, but with 16 seats up this cycle, Democrats are looking to flip control.

Stay tuned for more updates from the MultiState Election Team 2016.

MultiState’s policy analysts are tracking all the hot 2016 election issues from a state & local perspective. For more election-related news, click here.

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