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Decline in ticket-splitting reaches beyond Congress

Voters in 2020 backed the same party for president and state legislature in more than 90 percent of districts

ANALYSIS — While many voters like to think of themselves as independent-minded folks who consider the person before the party, the 2020 election results paint a different picture. Ticket-splitting is on life support.

The scarcity of mismatched seats at the federal level is well documented. Less than 4 percent of House members (16 of 435) represent districts that voted for the opposing party’s presidential nominee last fall. 

It’s a similar story at the state level, where there’s a dearth of districts whose voters split their tickets. People in more than 90 percent of state Senate and state House districts around the country voted for the same party for president as they did for the legislature, according to data compiled by CNalysis

More specifically, 2,903 districts voted for Joe Biden and a Democrat for the legislature compared to 3,294 districts which voted for President Donald Trump and a Republican for the legislature. 

At the federal level, there are currently seven Democrats representing seats Trump carried in 2020: Jared Golden (Maine’s 2nd), Matt Cartwright (Pennsylvania’s 8th), Andy Kim (New Jersey’s 3rd), Elissa Slotkin (Michigan’s 8th), Cheri Bustos (Illinois’ 17th), Cindy Axne (Iowa’s 3rd) and Ron Kind (Wisconsin’s 3rd). At the state level, there are 148 Democrats who represent state legislative districts where Trump topped Biden. 

Also at the federal level, there are nine Republicans representing seats Biden won: Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania’s 1st), John Katko (New York’s 24th), María Elvira Salazar (Florida’s 27th), Beth Van Duyne (Texas’ 24th), Don Bacon (Nebraska’s 2nd), David Valadao (California’s 21st), Mike Garcia (California’s 25th), Young Kim (California’s 39th) and Michelle Steel (California’s 48th). At the state level, there are 365 Republicans who represent districts where Biden outpaced Trump. 

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In addition, there are 52 more state legislative seats that voted for Trump or Biden and that split their ticket between nominees of the opposite party in at least one of the slots of a multimember district. While 565 seats looks like a lot of split-ticket districts in a vacuum, they still represent less than 10 percent of the state legislative districts nationwide. 

Democrats control both the House and the Senate in Washington, but Republicans have the advantage at the state level. They hold a majority of seats in 61 of the 98 legislative chambers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (That includes the Alaska state House, but a multipartisan coalition has control there.) In some key places, including Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, that advantage gives Republicans the power to draw new congressional lines. 

So as voters complain about the lack of bipartisanship or of lawmakers willing to work across the partisan aisle, it’s helpful to understand that the vast majority of elected officials in legislatures around the country already match the presidential partisanship of their seat. So there’s little incentive to work across the aisle on key legislation because persuading voters in the middle is less necessary. 

If voters really wanted their representative to be independent-minded and shun party labels, then voters should look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they’re willing to do the same thing. 

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

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