Following the 2014 midterm wave, Republicans dominated state legislatures at a rate not seen since the Civil War. Democrats had hoped to rebound in 2016, but thanks in part to Trump’s resilience and widespread Republican gerrymandering, they only made modest gains. Democrats flipped four chambers, but lost control of three, leaving Republicans in charge of 68 state legislative chambers and Democrats just 31.
The above map illustrates the balance of legislative power in state legislatures nationwide. Republicans control both chambers in 32 states, including 17 with veto-proof majorities. Those 32 states cover 61 percent of the U.S. population. Democrats, meanwhile, control the legislature in just 13 states, amounting to 28 percent of the country’s population; only five of those chambers have veto-proof majorities.
With a firm grip on the presidency, Congress, and soon the Supreme Court, Republicans have won more political power in 2016 than in any election since at least 1928, when Herbert Hoover was elected to the White House. Democrats now face a deep hole they need to climb out of to fight back against the coming reactionary policy shift of the pending Trump administration and its allied state governments.
Democrats had also hoped to gain among governors in 2016, and indeed they likely flipped North Carolina, pending a recount. However, they failed to flip Indiana and lost Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The electoral calendar also severely limited Democratic opportunities for gains because 38 states did not hold gubernatorial elections in 2016, and 34 governors in many big blue states like Illinois were last elected in the low-turnout 2014 midterm wave, which benefited Republicans immensely.
As shown above, Republicans now control the governor’s office in 33 states, amounting to 60 percent of the population, while Democrats control just 16 states with 40 percent of the population. (Alaska has an independent governor supported by the Democrats.) Republicans now hold a greater number of governor’s offices than they have in several generations.
This Republican dominance of governorships and legislatures leaves them firmly in command of state governments across America. The map below illustrates where each party has control of the so-called “trifecta”: states where they control either both chambers of the legislature plus the governor’s office or have veto-proof legislative majorities that can override a governor from the opposite party.
Republicans have total control over 25 states outright and another two where they can override a Democratic governor’s vetoes. These 27 states cover 56 percent of the population. Meanwhile, Democrats have total control outright in a mere six states and veto-proof majorities to override a Republican governor in just two more. These eight Democratic-controlled states add up to only 19 percent of the population, or roughly one-third as much as Republicans control.
One possible silver lining to the 2016 elections is that now, nearly every key governor’s race that matters for the next round of redistricting in 2020 will now be taking place under a potentially unpopular Trump administration. If 2018 follows the pattern of the last three midterm elections and unfolds as a backlash to the incumbent president’s party, Democrats could make major gubernatorial gains and be well-positioned to block many future Republican gerrymanders, giving them a fighting chance to win more seats in legislatures and in Congress in the coming decade.