Tagelection results

In five elections since 1920, the winning presidential candidate’s party has lost seats in the U.S. House

On Dec. 14, 2020, the Electoral College cast votes for president and vice president of the United States. Joe Biden (D) won 306 electoral votes, defeating President Donald Trump (R) who won 232. In the same 2020 election cycle, Biden’s Democratic party lost 13 U.S. House seats (one race remains uncalled). How many times has a winning presidential candidate’s party lost U.S. House seats in modern American history?

Since 1920, there have been five presidential election years where where the winning presidential candidate’s party lost U.S. House seats. In all of these cases, the party that lost seats in the House maintained the majority it had going into the election.

The greatest loss of seats in the House by a party that won the presidency happened in 1960. That year, John F. Kennedy (D) won the White House for Democrats and the party lost 21 House seats.

The three other cases all occurred after 1990:

  1. In 1992, Bill Clinton (D) won the White House and the Democratic Party lost nine seats in the House.
  2. In 2000, George W. Bush (R) won the White House and the Republican Party lost two seats in the House.
  3. In 2016, Donald Trump (R) won the White House and the Republican Party lost six seats in the House.

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Biden wins all six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted McCain-Romney-Clinton

Following the 2016 presidential election, Ballotpedia identified six Reverse-Pivot Counties that voted for Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016 after voting for John McCain (R) in 2008 and Mitt Romney (R) in 2012. 

All six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties voted for Biden in 2020.

These counties have a median population of 785,915. Voters there cast 4,015,613 ballots, representing 2.5% of all votes cast in the 2020 presidential election. All six are located in or near major metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Houston.

As of Dec. 11, Joe Biden (D) won all six of 2016’s Reverse-Pivot Counties by an average margin of 14.54 percentage points, roughly triple Clinton’s average margin of 4.96 in 2016.

The shift represents a continuing trend in these counties from supporting Republican presidential candidates towards supporting Democrats. Since 2008, when McCain won these counties, margins of victory have shifted 20.18 percentage points from Republicans to Democrats, on average.

30% of seats nationwide were uncontested in the 2020 general election

Ballotpedia covered all federal and state races on November 3, 2020, as well as local elections in America’s 100 largest cities by population. Of the 9,671 seats on the November ballot, 2,900 seats (30%) were uncontested. A race was considered uncontested if the number of candidates who filed for election was less than or equal to the number of seats on the ballot.

The states with the highest percentage of uncontested seats were Massachusetts and Alabama. In Massachusetts, 160 (73%) of 219 seats were uncontested on the November ballot. In Alabama, 34 (72%) of 47 seats were uncontested.

Other highlights from this analysis include:

  • Federal races: Alabama had the highest percentage of uncontested congressional seats on the ballot at 38%.
  • State executive races: In Massachusetts, all eight state executive seats on the ballot were uncontested.
  • State legislative races: Excluding Mississippi, since it held one state legislative special election, Massachusetts had the highest percentage of uncontested seats at 75%.
  • State judicial races: In North Dakota and Alabama, all of the state judicial races were uncontested.
  • Local races: In Wisconsin, all eight races across Dane and Milwaukee counties were uncontested in the November election.

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Guajardo defeats McComb in Corpus Christi, Texas, mayoral runoff

The general runoff election in Corpus Christi, Texas, was held on December 15, 2020. In the nonpartisan mayoral race, Paulette Guajardo defeated incumbent Joe McComb, earning 56% of the vote to McComb’s 44%.

The general election in Corpus Christi was held on November 3. If no candidate earned a majority of the vote in the general election, the top two vote-getters advanced to a runoff.

Corpus Christi also held runoffs for two city council seats. Billy Lerma won the District 1 race, earning 56% of the vote and defeating Rachel Ann Caballero. In the District 4 race, incumbent Greg Smith won re-election, defeating Kaylynn Paxson by a margin of 63% to 37%. City council elections in Corpus Christi are nonpartisan.

Corpus Christi is the eighth-largest city in Texas by population and the 59th-largest in the United States.

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Incumbent governors had a 100% re-election rate in 2020

Eleven states held elections for governor this year, including nine where the incumbent ran for re-election. All nine governors up for re-election won another term this year.

Republicans had greater partisan risk in 2020; the eleven states electing a governor included seven with Republican governors and four with Democratic governors. Republicans won eight of those races to Democrats’ three. The only state where control of the governorship changed was Montana, where Greg Gianforte (R) was elected to succeed Steve Bullock (D).

Gianforte is the first Republican to win election as governor of Montana since 2000. His election gives the Republican Party its first trifecta (unified control of the governorship and legislature) in the state since Democrats flipped the governorship in 2004. Montana’s 16 years without a state government trifecta is the longest among any state currently without one.

Outgoing Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) was the only governor prevented from running for re-election by term limits this year. The other outgoing governor, Gary Herbert (R-Utah), chose not to run for a third full term. Herbert, who took office in 2009, is the nation’s longest-serving governor currently in office.

Both parties were defending the governorship in two states where the other party’s presidential candidate won in 2016. Republican governors won re-election in New Hampshire and Vermont, which both went to Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016 and Joe Biden (D) in 2020. Democrats were defending governorships in both Montana and North Carolina, which President Trump (R) carried in both elections. While Republicans flipped the governorship in Montana, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) won a second term.

After Governor-elect Gianforte is sworn in Jan. 4, Republicans will hold 27 governorships nationwide to Democrats’ 23; the same totals both parties held after the 2018 election (Democrats flipped the Kentucky governorship in 2019). Democrats last held a majority of governorships nationwide in 2010.

In 2016, the same eleven states (and Oregon) held gubernatorial elections. That year, Republicans gained three governorships (in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont), while Democrats gained one, in North Carolina.

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Leeser wins mayoral runoff election in El Paso, Texas

A runoff election was held on December 12 in El Paso, Texas. Oscar Leeser defeated incumbent Donald “Dee” Margo in the mayoral election. Leeser received 79.5% of the vote, while Margo received 20.5%. Leeser will assume office in early January.

Leeser previously served as the mayor of El Paso from 2013 to 2017. He did not seek re-election in 2017. Margo was elected as mayor that year.

Although mayoral elections in El Paso are officially nonpartisan, The Texas Tribune reported that Leeser identifies as a member of the Democratic Party. Margo previously served as a Republican in the Texas House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013.

Leeser and Margo advanced from the general election on November 3 after neither candidate received a majority of the vote to win outright. Leeser received 42.6%, while Margo received 24.6%.

Twenty-nine of the 100 largest U.S. cities held mayoral elections in 2020. In 15 of those cities, the incumbent was Republican at the start of 2020. Twelve incumbents were Democratic, one was independent, and one was nonpartisan. Overall, Democratic mayors oversaw 64 of the 100 largest cities as of the beginning of 2020.

El Paso is the 6th-largest city in Texas and the 20th-largest city in the U.S. by population.

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What happens when the Electoral College votes on Dec. 14?

The Electoral College is the process by which the states and District of Columbia elect the president of the United States. Each state is represented by a number of electors equal to the size of its congressional delegation. There are 538 electors in total. To win the Electoral College, a candidate must receive a majority—at least 270—electoral votes.

In each state, a presidential candidate has a slate of electors that is typically selected by the state party through conventions or a committee vote. When a candidate wins the statewide popular vote in a state, his or her slate of electors is chosen to represent that state in the Electoral College.

The only exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, which assign two at-large electors to the statewide winner and one elector to the winner from each congressional district.

This year, electors from each state will separately meet on Dec. 14 to cast their votes for president and vice president. Although there is no constitutional provision or federal law requiring electors to vote in accordance with the election results in their state, electors typically vote for their pledged candidates.

The electors from each state then sign and seal six certificates of the vote. By Dec. 23, these documents must be delivered to the president of the Senate, state secretary of state (two copies), to the archivist of the United States (two copies), and the judge of the U.S. district court in the district where they met.

Congress will count the electoral votes in a joint session and declare a winner—subject to any objections to an individual state’s electoral votes—on Jan. 6.

Fourteen states have provisions permitting the disqualification and replacement of faithless electors whose vote deviates from the state’s popular vote. 

In 2016, votes for president and vice president were cast by seven faithless electors: five Democratic and two Republican.

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A closer look at voter turnout in Retained and Boomerang Pivot counties

Ballotpedia has been analyzing the 206 Pivot Counties that voted for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump (R) in 2016. This year, we have introduced two new categories: Retained Pivot Counties, which voted for Trump again in 2020, and Boomerang Pivot Counties, which voted for Joe Biden (D).

Based on unofficial results that are subject to change, Ballotpedia has identified 181 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties.

Voter turnout in these counties has increased compared to 2016.

Nationwide, voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election was the highest since 1900 at 69.25%. Retained Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 67.81%, 1.44 percentage points below the nationwide rate, and Boomerang Pivot Counties had a total turnout of 71.64%, 2.39 percentage points above the national rate.

The 2020 presidential election saw a continuation of the trend where turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties exceeds that in Retained Pivot Counties. In 2020, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties was 3.83 percentage points higher than the turnout in Retained Pivot Counties. Since 2008, the total turnout in Boomerang Pivot Counties has exceeded that in Retained Pivot Counties by an average of 3.95 percentage points.

Seventy-nine percent of Retained Pivot Counties (143) and 76% of Boomerang Pivot Counties (19) recorded their highest turnouts since at least 2008.

Nationwide, voter turnout increased by 8.21 percentage points compared to 2016. All Retained Pivot Counties except for two—Woodruff County, Arkansas, and Benson County, North Dakota—saw increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Voter turnout increased in every Boomerang Pivot County.

The table below shows the ten Pivot Counties with the largest increases in voter turnout compared to 2016. Of the ten, nine are in states that automatically sent absentee/mail-in ballots to voters during the presidential election. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington routinely conduct all-mail elections. New Jersey conducted its 2020 presidential election by mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Retained Pivot Counties are shown with red dots and Boomerang Pivot Counties with blue dots.

Elections in New York’s 22nd and Iowa’s 2nd set to have narrower margins of victory than any 2018 Congressional race

As of December 9, the results of two U.S. House elections remain uncertain. The election in New York’s 22nd Congressional District is too close to call amid an ongoing legal challenge surrounding partial recounts. In Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) was certified as the winner by state election officials as winning by a margin of six votes. Runner-up Rita Hart (D) announced she would contest the results before the U.S. House’s Administration Committee. Both elections are on track to be among the closest Congressional races in recent decades.

In 2018, 1,894 elections within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope were decided by margins of 10 percentage points or fewer, including primaries where candidates won election outright.

Broken down by level of office, 105 of these races were federal, 1,217 were state-level, and 572 were local.

Federal races in 2018 were decided by a smaller average margin-of-victory (MOV) than in any even-year elections since 2012. The narrowest MOV in 2018 was 0.12 percentage points in Florida’s U.S. Senate election.

At the state level, the narrowest MOV was 0.008 percentage points in the election for Kentucky House of Representatives District 13. Among local races within our coverage scope, the narrowest margin was 0.017 percentage points in the election for one of Maricopa County’s seats on the Central Arizona Water Conservation board.

There were 258 races decided by margins under one percentage point in 2018. This includes 20 races where the MOV was ten votes or fewer. Two races in 2018 were decided by a single vote: the election for District 1 of the Alaska House of Representatives and the election for District 13 of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

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2020 state supreme court election results

Thirty-five states held state supreme court elections in 2020. In total, 78 of the nation’s 344 state supreme court seats were up for election. At 23%, this was the greatest number of seats up for election in recent years.

Of these seats, at the start of 2020:

  • 59 were held by nonpartisan justices
  • 12 were held by Republican justices
  • Seven were held by Democratic justices

Out of 29 retention elections, 28 justices (97%) won retention. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride was the only justice who did not win retention in 2020.

The incumbent win rate for non-retention elections was not quite as high as for retention elections. Out of 41 incumbents, 37 (90%) won their elections in 2020. Two incumbents lost in partisan elections and two incumbents lost in nonpartisan elections. The overall incumbent win rate was 93% in 2020. 

In 2020, Ballotpedia conducted a study in which we examined the partisan affiliations of state supreme court justices. In our work, we gathered a variety of data on 341 active state supreme court justices across the 50 states to understand their partisan affiliations. Based on this research, we placed each justice in categories indicating our confidence in their affiliations with either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

Using public voter registration data, media reports, and Ballotpedia’s study of judicial partisanship, we determined the partisan balances on state supreme courts.

In the 2020 elections, 42 justices with some Republican affiliation won state supreme court seats while 24 justices with some Democrat affiliation won state supreme court seats. There were eight justices with indeterminate partisan affiliations who won state supreme court seats.

As of December 9, four seats had flipped partisanship in 2020. Three of these seats flipped from Republican to Democrat while one switched from Democrat to Republican. Seats switched from Republican to Democrat in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, while one seat flipped from Democrat to Republican in North Carolina. North Carolina has the potential to see one more seat flip from Democrat to Republican if Paul Newby maintains his lead over incumbent Cheri Beasley in the race for Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. As of December 9, Newby had a 401 vote lead pending a hand-to-eye recount at the request of Beasley’s campaign.

The only court to flip its partisan majority in 2020 was Michigan. Justice Bridget Mary McCormack (D) held her place as Chief Justice, and Elizabeth Welch (D) won retiring Justice Stephen Markman’s (R) seat. The partisan balance on the court flipped to 4-3, with Democrats controlling the court. At the time of the election, four of the seven justices on the court were appointed by Republican governors to fill vacancies. Three of the justices on the court advanced from Democratic conventions before winning general elections.

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