Ballotpedia’s Daily Brew: Introducing Ballotpedia’s state supreme court partisanship study

Welcome to the Tuesday, Nov. 17, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Introducing Ballotpedia’s supreme court partisanship study
  2. Three states split presidential and gubernatorial vote in 2020
  3. Alaska state Legislature elections could influence trifecta status, legislature majorities

Introducing Ballotpedia’s supreme court partisanship study

Today, I’m excited to brief you on our newly published State Supreme Court Partisanship Study. 

First, some background. Each state has at least one supreme court, or court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas each have two such courts, one for civil appeals and one for criminal appeals. The study – a culmination of eight months of research and compilation of raw data – supplies Partisan Confidence Scores for 341 active state supreme court justices on all 52 courts of last resort. 

We gathered a variety of data on each justice and, based on that data, placed each justice into one of five categories indicating our confidence in their affiliations with either the Democratic or Republican Parties. These categories are Strong Democratic Confidence, Mild Democratic Confidence, Indeterminate Confidence, Mild Republican Confidence, and Strong Republican Confidence. Click here to learn more about our methodology.

To be clear – the study does not specifically describe the partisan affiliation of judges. We call our scores Confidence Scores because we believe they provide insight into the degree of confidence we have in each justice’s political leanings because of their previous partisan activity.

Here are some of the key findings from the study:

  • Of the 341 justices studied, we assigned Republican scores to 178 (52.2%), Democratic scores to 114 (33.4%), and Indeterminate scores to 49 (14.4%).
  • Twenty-seven states (54%) have a majority of justices with Republican scores. Fifteen state supreme courts (30%) have a majority of justices with Democratic scores. Eight state supreme courts (16%) do not have a majority of justices with Democratic scores or Republican scores.
  • 39.9% of the population live in a state which has a majority of justices with Democratic scores on the court. 51.1% of citizens live in a state which has a majority of justices with Republican scores on the court. 9% of citizens live in a state with a split court, or a court with a majority of justices with indeterminate partisan leanings. 

Stay tuned for future Brew editions, where we’ll dive deeper into the study’s findings. 

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Three states split presidential and gubernatorial vote in 2020

Here’s another post-election results analysis for you. Of the 11 states that elected a governor this year, voters in three states (New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Vermont) voted for presidential and gubernatorial candidates of different parties. Voters in at least one other state voted for a presidential candidate opposite its current trifecta status. 

A state government trifecta occurs when one party holds a state’s governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Heading into the 2020 elections, Republicans had 21 state government trifectas, and Democrats had 15. The 14 remaining states had divided government, where neither party had a trifecta.

Following the 2020 elections, Republicans were projected to gain trifecta control in Montana and New Hampshire. The trifecta status of Alaska was not yet determined. If control of Alaska does not change, Republicans will have 23 trifectas (a net gain of two), Democrats will have 15 trifectas, and 12 states will have divided governments (a net loss of two). If Republicans gain a trifecta in Alaska, they will have 24 trifectas to Democrats’ 15 with 11 divided governments.

This year, New Hampshire and Vermont re-elected their Republican governors while also voting for Joe Biden. North Carolina re-elected its Democratic governor while voting a second time for Donald Trump.

Both Montana and West Virginia voted for Donald Trump a second time while also electing a Republican governor. In Montana, Greg Gianforte (R) was elected governor after losing to incumbent Steve Bullock (D) in the 2016 election. In West Virginia, Jim Justice (R) was re-elected. Justice was first elected as a Democrat in 2016 and joined the Republican Party the following year.

In 2016, when all 11 states also held gubernatorial elections, five states split their presidential and gubernatorial votes. Montana, North Carolina, and West Virginia elected Democratic governors while also voting for Donald Trump (R). New Hampshire and Vermont elected Republican governors while also voting for Hillary Clinton (D).

Joe Biden (D) won all 15 states with Democratic trifectas as well as Arizona, which has a Republican trifecta. As of Nov. 16, the results of the presidential election in Georgia, a Republican trifecta, remained too close to call. Four of the five outlets Ballotpedia tracks had called the state for Joe Biden.

Donald Trump (R) won the other 19 Republican trifecta states. Of the 14 states with divided government heading into the election, six voted for Donald Trump and eight for Joe Biden.

Republicans gained trifectas in two states that had divided government before the election: Montana (which voted for Donald Trump) and New Hampshire (which voted for Joe Biden). As of Monday, Republicans stood to also gain a trifecta in Alaska, which voted for Donald Trump, although that state’s final trifecta status remained too close to call.

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Alaska state Legislature elections could influence trifecta status, legislative majorities

Speaking of trifectas, here’s an update from Alaska.

As of Monday, Republicans led in both legislative chambers, although several races remained too close to call. Local political observers suggest that minority coalitions had the potential to form in both chambers. Republicans won a 12-seat majority in the state Senate, with one election in a Republican-held district too close to call. However, observers reported that policy disputes in the Republican caucus left the possibility of a minority coalition open. Republicans won at least 19 seats in the state House, with 12 going to Democrats and one to an independent. Control of the eight remaining seats was too close to call.

In 2018, Republicans had a majority in the state Senate, gained control of the state House, and won the governorship. Although Republicans won a 23-16 majority of House seats in the 2018 election, divisions within the house caucus prevented them from taking formal control of the chamber and achieving a state government trifecta. A bipartisan coalition eventually organized a majority in which the two parties divided leadership and committee positions. Although they lost one seat in the Alaska state Senate, Republicans maintained a 13-7 majority.

Even with a majority in the Senate, Republicans could fail to unify, with some members possibly joining with the seven Democratic senators to form a coalition like the one created in the House in 2018. Eleven votes are necessary to name a new Senate leader and control the legislative process. In the House, the outcome of uncalled elections could affect the composition of the bipartisan coalition formed in 2018, and Republicans would have to form a united governing majority in both the House and Senate to achieve a trifecta.

Click the link below to follow along with us as we track results.
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About the author

Dave Beaudoin

Dave Beaudoin is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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