The recent jump in Gallup’s Republican lead on the generic ballot has had many analysts buzzing about the implications for GOP gains in congressional races. But such a lead also portends a wave of Republican victories down the ballot, in state legislative contests that may have lasting political significance.
Tim Storey, who watches politics for the National Conference of State Legislatures, reports that political scientists have constructed models to use generic-ballot polling for Congress to predict simultaneous gains in legislative seats. Here’s a particular scary scenario for Democrats:
About a month ago, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz, a senior columnist for Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball site, took NCSL’s historic data on partisan swings in legislative elections and ran a regression analysis of legislative election results from 1946 to 2008. Abramowitz’ model factors in the party controlling the White House and the margin between the two parties going into the election. He found a strong relationship between the generic ballot and legislative election results. According to his model, if Republicans hold a six point lead on the generic ballot this November, they can expect to net around 470 seats in this fall’s elections. That would give Republicans a majority of all legislative seats for the first time since they emerged from the 2002 election with a narrow advantage. If the GOP generic ballot holds at +10, as it is now, and the Abramowitz model proves accurate, Democratic losses will approach historic levels and Republicans could wind up with the most legislative seats in their column since World War II.
To be more specific about it, legislative watchers currently consider 25 chambers, or about a third of the ones up for election this year, to be “in play” — meaning they are rated as toss-ups or leaners. Democrats currently control 21 of them. In a few states — Tennessee, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Alaska, and my home state of North Carolina — both chambers are considered in play.
The results matter for two reasons. In Washington, everyone talks about the power a resurgent GOP could have in state capitals to draw congressional maps for the next decade. True enough. But also important is the fact that legislatures make key decisions about issues such as education, taxes, regulation, and transportation — and will need to play an ongoing role in the national movement to defund, defang, and ultimately repeal Obamacare.