State legislative competitiveness reaches a decade-high

Welcome to the Wednesday, October 19, Brew. 

By: David Luchs

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. State legislative competitiveness reaches a decade-high
  2. Battleground race will fill Rhode Island’s first open congressional district since 2010

State legislative competitiveness reaches a decade-high

Ballotpedia’s Annual State Legislative Competitiveness Report found a decade-high level of competition in the 6,278 state legislative elections taking place this year.

The 2022 State Legislative Competitiveness Report found that the overall rise in competitiveness is due to incumbents facing more primary challenges and the presence of more open seat contests. At the same time, there was a decline in head-to-head matchups between Republican and Democratic candidates in the general election.

We use three criteria to determine state legislative competitiveness:

  • Open seats, those where no incumbents are running;
  • Incumbents in contested primaries; and,
  • Seats with major party competition, those contested between a Democratic and Republican candidate in the general election.

We average these percentages to produce a State Legislative Competitiveness Index, which can range from zero (least competitive) to 100 (most competitive).

This year, the nationwide State Legislative Competitiveness Index is 36.2, beating out 2018 (36.1) and the 2012 post-redistricting cycle (35.2).

Michigan has the highest Competitiveness Index at 62.5, continuing its streak as the most competitive state in every election cycle since 2012.

Massachusetts has the lowest Competitiveness Index at 16.8, continuing its streak as the least competitive state in every election cycle since 2016.

Use the table below to see your state’s Competitiveness Index this year plus a comparison to where it ranked in 2020.

This year’s competitiveness level was driven by activity before the general election, namely the decade-high levels of open seats and incumbents in contested primaries.

There were 1,493 open seats this year, representing 23.8% of all seats up for election. Open seats tend to draw more candidates. 

This decade-high rate of open seats is similar to the rate in 2012, the last post-redistricting election cycle. Incumbents might not run for re-election after a redistricting cycle if the partisan makeup of their district changes or if the incumbent no longer lives in the same district.

Redistricting can also result in entirely new districts, though this is less common. In 2012, New York added one Senate seat. This year, Wyoming added one Senate seat and two House seats.

Term limits can also create open seats. As in 2012, the last post-redistricting year, the percentage of open seats due to term limits this year was lower than the decade average. In both 2012 and 2022, term limits accounted for 17% of all open seats, while in the intervening years, term limits accounted for closer to one-quarter of all open seats.

Incumbents who do seek re-election may face primary challengers.

This year, 1,301 incumbents—511 Democrats and 790 Republicans—ran in contested primaries, 26.8% of all incumbents who were running at the time of their primaries.

Republican incumbents facing primary challengers drove this year’s decade-high rate of incumbents in contested primaries. 

Republicans hold a majority of state legislative seats, so it is expected that the number of Republican incumbents facing primaries would be greater than Democrats.

But 31% of all Republican incumbents running for re-election faced primaries this year, a decade-high percentage and up from 20% in 2020.

For Democrats, the rate was also higher—20%, up from 19% in 2020—but lower than the decade-high rate of 21% in 2012.

The rate of incumbents facing primaries might be partly attributable to redistricting. Incumbents may run against other incumbents in primaries because of new district boundaries.

  • This year, 100 incumbents—34 Democrats and 66 Republicans—ran in incumbent v. incumbent primaries, accounting for 11% of all incumbents facing contested primaries. 
  • In 2012, 103 incumbents—50 Democrats and 53 Republicans—ran in such primaries, accounting for 9% of all incumbents in contested primaries that year.

While open seats and incumbents in contested primaries powered this year’s rate of competitiveness, don’t expect to see that competitiveness extend into this year’s general elections.

The rate of major party competition is down seven percentage points from 2020, reaching its lowest point since 2016. Both major parties are contesting 58.1% of all seats up for election, meaning the remaining 42.9% have only one of the two major parties on the ballot.

The decrease in major party competition this year came from more Republicans challenging Democrats and fewer Democrats challenging Republicans.

Republicans are contesting 83.3% of seats, a decade-high for the party. Democrats are contesting 74.8% of seats, a decade-low.

Use the link below to read Ballotpedia’s Annual State Legislative Competitiveness Report for 2022.

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Battleground race will fill Rhode Island’s first open congressional district since 2010

Today is the 37th day of our 50 States in 50 Days series, and we’re featuring Rhode Island, the Ocean State.

Week One: Pennsylvania, Indiana, South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota
Week Two: California, Georgia, Texas, Montana
Week Three: North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, Illinois, Idaho
Week Four: Kentucky, Michigan, Arkansas, Minnesota, West Virginia
Week Five: Vermont, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, Ohio
Week Six: South Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, Oregon, Tennessee
Week Seven: Colorado, New Jersey, Washington, Alabama, Utah
Week Eight: Mississippi, Maryland

On the ballot in Rhode Island

Rhode Island voters will elect two U.S. Representatives. This year marks the first time since 2010 voters have had to fill an open district. 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D) is retiring.

The offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer are on the ballot.

All 113 state legislative seats are also up for election: 75 in the state House and 38 in the state Senate.

We are also covering local elections in the state’s capital: Providence.

Redistricting highlights

The number of U.S. House districts in Rhode Island remained the same at two following the 2020 census.

Congressional and state legislative elections will take place under new district lines following the census. Our side-by-side map comparison tool allows you to compare each district. Here’s an example of what Rhode Island’s congressional map looked like before and after the 2020 census:

You can interact with our congressional and state legislative map comparison tools by visiting our Rhode Island redistricting page here.

Partisan balance

  • Both of Rhode Island’s U.S. Senators—Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse—are Democrats.
  • The state also has two Democratic U.S. Representatives: David Cicilline, who is seeking re-election, and Langevin.
  • Rhode Island has had a Democratic governor since former Gov. Lincoln Chaffee switched his affiliation from independent to Democratic in 2013.
  • Democrats hold a 33-5 majority in the Senate and a 65-10 majority in the House.
  • With a Democratic governor and majorities in both legislative chambers, Rhode Island is one of 14 Democratic trifectas, a status it has held since 2013.
  • In addition to the governor, Rhode Island has a Democratic attorney general and secretary of state, making it one of 18 states with a Democratic triplex.

Seats contested by only one major party

In 2022, 47 state legislative districts in Rhode Island, or 42% of all districts holding elections, do not have major party competition. When a candidate from only one of either major party runs in a state legislative district, that party is all but guaranteed to win that district.

Democrats are running in 110 of the districts holding elections. Three districts (3%) do not have a Democratic candidate, meaning Republicans will likely win.

Republicans are running in 69 of the districts holding elections, a 64% increase from 2020. Forty-four districts (39%) do not have a Republican candidate, meaning Democrats will likely win.

Key races

  • Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District: Seth Magaziner (D) faces Allan Fung (R) in the state’s first open congressional district since 2010. Two election forecasters have the race as leaning Democratic and one rates it as a toss-up. The last Republican U.S. House member was Ronald Machtley, who left office in 1995.
  • Governor: Gov. Daniel McKee (D) faces Ashley Kalus (R) and three others. This is McKee’s first gubernatorial election. He is seeking a full term in office after assuming the position in 2021 following former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s (D) resignation to become U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Ballot measures

There are three measures on the ballot in Rhode Island this year.

  • Question 1 asks voters to either support or oppose a plan to issue $100 million in bonds to support the University of Rhode Island Narragansett Bay Campus’ marine discipline educational and research needs.
  • Question 2 asks voters to either support or oppose a plan to issue $250 million in bonds to construct and renovate public school buildings across the state.
  • Question 3 asks voters to either support or oppose a plan to issue $50 million in bonds for educational or recreational purpose. The largest line item in the proposal is $16 million allocated towards municipal resiliency.

All three measures were introduced as part of HB 7123. The state house approved the bill 69-1 with five not voting and the state senate approved it 33-0 with five not voting.

Rhode Island is one of 34 states that does not have the initiative and referendum process. The Legislature can refer measures to the ballot for voter consideration.

One hundred sixty-three measures appeared on statewide ballots between 1985 and 2021. One hundred twenty-eight were approved and 35 were defeated.


  • Polls are open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Rhode Island requires voters to present identification while voting. Learn more here.
  • Early in-person voting begins on Oct. 19 and ends on Nov. 7.
  • Only certain voters are eligible to vote by absentee/mail-in ballot. The deadline to request such a ballot is Oct. 18 and election officials must receive that ballot by Nov. 8. Learn more here.
  • The voter registration deadline was Oct. 9. Voters can check their registration status here.

Want to learn more about the elections you’ll be voting in this year? Click here to use our Sample Ballot Lookup tool! 

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