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State Elections: Not Much Changed

Heading into Election Day, the 2020 Presidential campaign was generating record voter turnout through early voting and mail-in ballots. At the time, campaign officials in both parties were uncertain what the impact of a record turnout would have on down-ballot state elections, but Republicans and Democrats were both highly optimistic their respective campaigns would prevail.

However, as the dust settled not much changed in the majority of states’ political landscapes. The big headline, surprisingly, is the continuation of the status quo in the majority of states. Particularly when a record voter turnout could have produced wholesale changes to the political landscape.

Prior to Election Day, Republicans held majority control in 59 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 39 chambers. One legislative chamber, the Alaska House of Representatives, featured a power-sharing agreement between the parties as part of a coalition. Analysts had identified 18–24 battleground chambers, but in the end only two legislative chambers switched party control. The New Hampshire Senate and House shifted from Democratic control to Republican control.

The National Conference of State Legislatures' Tim Storey and Wendy Underhill wrote, "With just two chamber flips so far, it looks like 2020 will see the least party control changes on Election Day since at least 1944 when only four chambers changed hands. In the 1926 and 1928 elections, only one chamber changed hands."

As for gubernatorial seats, eleven states were up for grabs, with Montana considered the lone toss-up election. For all the hand-wringing over federal election polling, gubernatorial polling appears to have been spot on. Montana was the only state to flip party control—from Democrat to Republican.

The electoral trend in recent election cycles has decreased the number of states with divided governments, and 2020 was no different. Prior to November 3, Republicans held 21 state trifectas and Democrats 15; analysts had identified 16 states with vulnerable trifectas, but in the end, no state trifectas were lost, while two new (Republican) trifectas were formed in Montana and New Hampshire. Trifectas are important to political parties because they afford a party an opportunity to advance its agenda more easily, by controlling both legislative chambers and the governorship.

The 2020 elections were especially critical regarding trifecta control because of redistricting that will soon follow the recent decennial census. Redistricting will ultimately impact how the next decade of political power is shaped. Depending on how this political power is shaped and the results of future elections, it isn’t hard to imagine that trifectas could play a part in how and where we see occupational licensing reform, including possible threats of deregulation.

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