Everyone knows by now that 2010 and 2014 were very good to the Republican Party. What they don’t understand (or understand well enough) is just how good. Yes, Republicans now control the Senate and have their largest majority in the House since World War II. But it’s downballot (way downballot) where the depth of the Republican victories over the past three elections truly reveal themselves — and where the impact will be felt over the long term.
In the past three elections, Republicans have gained 913 state legislative seats, according to calculations made by Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia. Here are Sabato’s figures in chart form — and with historical comparisons — via GOP lobbyist Bruce Mehlman.
Now, there are more 7,000 state legislative seats in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which makes that 913 number slightly less eye-popping. Still, the Democratic losses between 2010 and 2014 amount to 12 percent of all state legislative seats nationwide.
As NCSL notes, Republicans now control more than 4,100 seats — their highest number since 1920. After taking over 11 legislative chambers from Democrats in 2014, Republicans now control 30 state legislatures completely — and have full control of state government (state legislature and governorship) in 23 states. Democrats, by contrast, have full control of 11 state legislatures and total control of state government in just seven states. (Click here for an amazing NCSL chart that details which side controls every state legislature.)
Why does the lopsided state of legislative control matter to national politics? For lots of reasons.
1. Policy is made at the state legislative level. That’s policy pertaining to states and policy that gets bumped up to the federal level. With Republicans in control of so many state governments, the policy incubator for their side will be vastly superior to what Democrats can do at the state and local levels.
2. State legislatures and governors redraw congressional lines. In most states, how the nation’s 435 House districts will look after the 2020 Census will be determined by state legislators and governors. And guess what? Republican legislators (and governors) are more likely to draw lines that are friendly to their side. Unless Democrats can reverse their state House and Senate losses before the 2021 redraw, Republicans could control the House for a very, very long time.
3. State legislatures are the minor leagues. Most of the politicians — President Obama included — who have gone on to great things, politically speaking, honed their craft in the state legislature of their home (or adopted home) state. Republicans’ farm system to grow the sort of talent that might one day run for House, Senate or even president is now significantly larger than that of Democrats.
Yes, in the near term, nothing matters more than which party hold the majority in the U.S. House and Senate. But, if you are playing the long game — and both parties have to if they want to stay vibrant and effective — what happens at the state legislative level has huge import. And, in that contest, there is no contest: Republicans are winning in a landslide.