Looking back at 2023 – highest average margin of victory in state legislative elections since 2018

Welcome to the Thursday, February 15, Brew. 

By: Juan Garcia de Paredes

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

  1. Average margin of victory in state legislative general elections last year was highest since 2018
  2. In the latest episode of On the Ballot: Chevron deference, explained
  3. Suozzi’s win in New York’s 3rd CD narrows House Republican majority to six seats

Average margin of victory in state legislative general elections last year was highest since 2018

Last November, general elections were held for 578 seats in eight legislative chambers across four states: Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia.

In races where more than one candidate ran, the winner’s margin of victory was 28.7 percentage points – higher than in 2021 (23.6 pp) and 2019 (26 pp), the last two odd-year election cycles. 

The average margin of victory in 2023 was also the highest of any year since 2018, surpassing the previous high of 27.7 percentage points in 2022.

The margin of victory refers to the difference between the share of votes cast for the winner and the second-place candidate in an election. In races with multiple seats up, like last year’s elections for multimember districts in the New Jersey General Assembly, the margin of victory is the difference between the vote shares of the winner with the fewest votes and the losing candidate with the most votes.

The victory margin for 56 races (9.7%) was 10 percentage points or less. That’s the lowest percentage of state legislative races decided by that margin since Ballotpedia began analyzing this data in 2019.

Democrats won 20 (35.7%) and Republicans won 36 (64.3%). That’s the lowest percentage of races decided by a margin of 10 percentage points or less that Democrats have won since at least 2019. Conversely, that’s the highest percentage of those races that Republicans have won since 2019.

Two races were decided by a margin of 0.5 percentage points or less in 2023:

  • In New Jersey General Assembly District 8, where two seats were up for election, incumbent Michael Torrissi Jr. (R) and Andrea Katz (D) defeated Anthony Angelozzi (D) and Brandon E. Umba (R). The margin between Katz, who finished second, and Angelozzi, who finished third, was 198 votes, or 0.18 pp.
  • In the Virginia House of Delegates, incumbent Kim Taylor (R) defeated Kimberly Adams (D) in District 82 by 78 votes, or 0.27 pp. 

The New Jersey General Assembly’s 14.7 percentage point margin of victory was the smallest of the eight chambers up for election last year. The Mississippi House of Representatives’ 47.2 percentage point margin of victory was the largest.

The Virginia House of Delegates, which switched to Democratic control in November, had an average margin of victory of 24.9 percentage points. This was a smaller margin than the 27 percentage points average when Republicans gained control of the chamber in 2021.

There are 99 state legislative chambers across all 50 states. Every state except Nebraska has a bicameral legislature.

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In the latest episode of On the Ballot: Chevron deference, explained 

In this week’s episode of On the Ballot, our weekly podcast, our host, Victoria Rose, sits down with Ballotpedia’s Chief Policy Editor Caitlin Styrsky to unpack the legal doctrine known as Chevron deference

The doctrine, which we highlighted in our Jan. 30 edition of the Brew, compels federal courts to defer to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous or unclear statute. It originated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1984 ruling in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., one of the most cited cases of all time dealing with the administration and regulation of federal agencies.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two consolidated cases that could affect future applications of Chevron deference. In both cases, commercial fishermen are challenging lower court rulings that applied Chevron deference to uphold the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) interpretation of a federal fishery law requiring the fishermen to pay for compliance monitors.

In the episode, Caitlin breaks down the history of Chevron deference, how it works, the arguments for and against it, and what its future might look like after the Supreme Court’s likely decision later this year.

Although the legal principles behind Chevron are complex, Ballotpedia is your one-stop shop for understanding the doctrine’s background and the debates over how federal courts have applied it. Click here to learn more. 

Chevron is one of several kinds of judicial deference the court has developed. Judicial deference is one of five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about how agencies exercise the power to create, adjudicate, and enforce their own rules (a phenomenon referred to as the administrative state).

Ballotpedia provides neutral, nonpartisan encyclopedic coverage that defines and analyzes the administrative state, including its philosophical origins, legal and judicial precedents, and scholarly examinations of its consequences. The coverage area also monitors and reports on measures of federal government activity. Click here to learn more.

Click the link below to listen to our full conversation with Caitlin.

And remember, new episodes of On the Ballot drop every Thursday afternoon. If you’re reading this on the morning of Feb. 15, there’s still time to subscribe to On the Ballot on your preferred podcast app and catch this week’s release!

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Suozzi’s win in New York’s 3rd CD narrows House Republican majority to six seats

ICYMI, on Tuesday, former U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D) defeated Mazi Pilip (R) in the special election for New York’s 3rd Congressional District. As of this writing, Suozzi had 53.9% of the vote to Pilip’s 46.1%. The special election was held to fill the vacancy created when the House voted to expel the previous incumbent George Santos (R) on Dec. 1.

Suozzi’s win changes the House’s partisan balance from a 219-212 Republican majority, with four vacancies, to a 219-213 Republican majority with three vacancies.

New York’s 3rd is the first congressional district to change partisan control in a special election this cycle. As of Feb. 14, nine special elections have been called for the 118th Congress—seven in the House and two in the Senate. Four have already occurred, and five are scheduled for later this year. 

Suozzi represented an earlier version of the 3rd district from 2017 to 2023 and was a candidate for governor in the 2022 Democratic primary. Pilip has served in the Nassau County Legislature since 2021. Because this was a special election, leaders in the Queens and Nassau county parties selected both candidates rather than holding primaries.

Suozzi will serve the remainder of Santos’ term, which ends on Jan. 3, 2025. Suozzi is also running in the November general election for a full term in the next Congress.

In the 2022 election, Santos defeated Robert Zimmerman (D) 53.7%-46.2%. The difference between Suozzi’s win on Tuesday and Zimmerman’s win in 2022 was eight percentage points. The 2022 election was the first election after the 2020 round of redistricting, which analysts assess shifted the district towards Republicans.

From 2013 to 2022, 67 special elections were held. Democrats had held 23 of 67 districts up for special election, while Republicans had held 44.

Looking at special House elections alone, Democrats gained two seats between 2013 and 2022. Republicans lost two seats during the same period. For more information on historical congressional special elections, click here.

Special elections to Congress occur when a member resigns or is removed from office. Depending on the specific state laws governing vacancies, a state can either hold an election within the same calendar year or wait until the next regularly scheduled election.

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