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Sabato's Crystal Ball

Ranking the States Demographically, from Most Republican-Friendly to Most Democratic-Friendly

Dear Readers: Join us Tuesday, Feb. 15 as Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato interviews ABC News’ Jonathan Karl about his new book, Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show. The program will run from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time, and you can watch live at this link. See here for more information about the event. – The Editors KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — For all 50 states, we looked at 3 variables that are increasingly linked with partisan voting patterns: education level, race, and urbanization. — When the states are rank-ordered by their composite scores on these 3 measures, the Republican-voting states for the 2020 presidential election cluster on one end of the spectrum, while the Democratic-voting states cluster at the other end, with many battleground states somewhere in the middle. — In both the top (Republican) and bottom (Democratic) halves of our 1-through-50 list, only 5 out of 25 states broke ranks by voting for the presidential candidate who was at odds with the state’s demographic tendencies. This suggests that these 3 demographic factors have a strong influence on presidential voting behavior. The 3 demographics that help sort the states In contemporary politics,

Louis Jacobson

Why Voter Suppression Probably Won’t Work

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — In the aftermath of the high-turnout 2020 election, many Republican-controlled state governments have passed legislation that Democrats believe will harm their party’s voter turnout. — However, voting rules did not appear to have much impact on turnout and had no measurable impact on vote margins at the state level in the 2020 presidential election. — Both voter turnout and voting decisions in 2020 were driven by the strong preferences held by the large majority of voters between the major party candidates. The limited impact of voting procedure on 2020 turnout Former President Trump and his political allies continue to push baseless allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election more than a year after Joe Biden’s inauguration. Largely in response to those allegations, Republican state legislatures around the country have enacted dozens of laws intended to tighten identification requirements, limit access to absentee voting, reduce the time period for early in-person voting, and limit the use of drop boxes for absentee voting. Democrats have responded to these new laws by proposing legislation in Congress to override these laws but have failed to pass new voting rights laws due to unified Republican opposition and

Alan I. Abramowitz

Five Warning Signs for Biden as He Marks First Anniversary in Office

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE — As Joe Biden marks a year in office, he has found himself in a perilous position, and there are no obvious signs of improvement. — Among Biden’s challenges is an apparently weakened position among nonwhite voters as well as younger voters, two immensely important pillars of the Democratic coalition. — Inflation has re-emerged as an important problem for what appears to be the first time in decades, and Biden has work to do to persuade the public that he’s taking it seriously. A bleak picture for Biden as first year ends As we mark the first anniversary of President Joe Biden taking office, his first year has been defined in no small part by the persistence of a problem he promised to solve — the pandemic — and the emergence of a problem he was slow to recognize — inflation. While there are all sorts of other things that have transpired during Biden’s first year in office, his difficulties with these two problems — with the always politically-dicey challenge of high gas prices acting as a subset of the larger inflation issue — likely explain a good deal about Americans’ broadly negative assessments of his

Kyle Kondik and J. Miles Coleman

In Ohio, a labor showdown looms

In the vengeful world of politics, what goes around often comes around. After the November midterm elections in Ohio in 1994, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, Harry Meshel, received a telephone message: A county commissioner had called asking for Meshel’s resignation in the wake of the calamitous election, in which Republicans won control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in two decades and won all five statewide elected executive offices. The county commissioner who asked Meshel to resign, Chris Redfern, later became Democratic Party chairman in his own right, a job he still holds today. So after Democrats repeated their 1994 losses last fall — every statewide elected office* and the House — Meshel, who had kept his receptionist’s “while you were out” note from 16 years before, had a message of his own for Redfern. “Thought you might like this reminder of your ‘warmth’ toward me after I suffered the defeats of ’94,” Meshel wrote. “You failed miserably! … Get lost!” Democrats in Ohio have plenty of experience with regret and recrimination. After all, it’s been a rotten two decades for the donkey in Ohio. Since 1991, Republicans have controlled the governor’s office

Kyle Kondik

A Declining Constituency

Recent events in Wisconsin and a number of other states have focused attention on the role played by labor unions in contemporary American politics. As Scott Walker and other conservative Republican governors have sought to reduce the power of public employee unions in their states by weakening collective bargaining rights, the unions and their supporters have fought back with demonstrations and efforts to recall Republican elected officials who have supported these policies. One common progressive criticism of Republican efforts to undermine public employee unions is that these policies are aimed more at weakening the ability of unions to support Democratic candidates in future elections than at reducing state budget deficits. There is no question that unions, and especially public employee unions, remain a major source of funding and campaign workers for Democratic candidates. In 2010, for example, three public employee unions (SEIU, AFSCME and the NEA) were the leading independent spenders on behalf of Democratic candidates, and unions continue to provide large numbers of volunteers for Democratic registration and get-out-the-vote drives. But aside from providing financial support and campaign volunteers, how important is the union vote for Democratic candidates in the second decade of the 21st century? In assessing the

Alan I. Abramowitz


Thanks to Tim Storey and his colleagues at the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Crystal Ball can share with you the most up-to-date picture of power control in the states. It is summed up nicely in the two maps and one graph, below. Republicans now control both legislative chambers in exactly half the states, the most since 1952 (when the total was also 25). Democrats control both chambers in 16 states, and control of the two chambers is split in 8 states. Nebraska technically has a nonpartisan legislature, though in fact the GOP rules the roost there. Excluding Nebraska, there are 98 partisan chambers in the 50 states. Republicans are in charge in 57, Democrats in 39, and two are tied (Alaska Senate and Oregon House). Partisan Control of Legislatures 2011 Not surprisingly, in our complicated system of divided legislative and executive power, the map is muddled further once the governorships are added. The governor may be of a different party than one or both houses of the legislature, and he or she can veto actions of the legislature. Thus, Republicans fully control only 20 states, though this is up from a mere 8 prior to the 2010 election—and

Larry J. Sabato

Center for Politics Announces Release of “Pendulum Swing”

Today the University of Virginia Center for Politics released its latest book, Pendulum Swing, drawing on the collective wisdom of nearly two dozen of the nation’s top political analysts, journalists, and academics for comprehensive analysis of the 2010 midterm elections and the subsequent policy implications. As President Barack Obama makes his first address to the 112th Congress, this timely publication by Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato and a national team of contributing experts delves into the overlooked details of the 2010 elections. Looking back at the titanic political shift in Washington, DC and around the nation, the authors explore how that shift could affect the 2012 presidential election. The book is the newest in an ongoing annual election series developed by the Center for Politics and published by Pearson/Longman publishers ( “The 2010 midterm election was one of the most significant in modern American history. The voters spoke emphatically and what they said will have great consequences for years to come. This is an election that deserves extensive treatment, and that is what we have tried to deliver in Pendulum Swing,” Sabato said. Separating political myth from reality, Pendulum Swing tackles topics such as the Tea Party, campaign finance,

UVA Center for Politics


If we took the title of this short essay seriously, we’d stop right here. You can’t make sense of the act of a madman. Whatever political influences may have been at work —if any—in the shooter’s warped mind, the compulsions that sent him to his rendezvous with infamy last Saturday were undeniably psychotic. Americans are familiar with such tragedies, unfortunately. There have been dozens of assassinations and mass shootings since the 1960s. For whatever it is worth, we try to draw lessons from these sad, sick events. The Tucson massacre turned into a political Rorschach test. At the least, it revealed that a concern about inflamed rhetoric was on a lot of minds. Very quickly, people jumped to inaccurate conclusions about motives, and this initiated yet another vicious round of finger-pointing between the polarized left and right. Two lessons are apparent here. First, since we’re unlikely to pass gun control, we might try a little tongue control. Facts first, judgments later, lest an Alice in Wonderland standard becomes the norm. Second, even if heated political debate had little or nothing to do with this terrible incident, a lowering of voices all around would be a silver lining to a very

Larry J. Sabato

Legislature Landslide

Late last week, a state judge on Long Island in New York certified that Mineola mayor Jack Martins, a Republican, had won the race for state Senate District 7 by a mere 451 votes out of the more than 85,000 cast. With that win, the GOP took control of the New York Senate by a 32-30 majority making it the last state legislative domino to fall in the 2010 election cycle. The New York state Senate was the 20th legislative chamber picked up by Republicans in the 2010 elections. In addition to gaining new majorities in 20 chambers, Republicans won enough seats in Oregon to tie the House at 30-30. Adding insult to injury, they also took a numerical majority in the Louisiana House when a Democratic representative switched parties, leaving that chamber with 51 Republicans and 50 Democrats along with four independents. Twenty-two state legislative chambers changed majority control in the 2010 election cycle—all in the direction of the GOP. By this point, the overused weather clichés have all been trotted out. Whether you call it a hurricane, a tsunami or a seismic shift, it was an historic election at the state level for the GOP. By adding over

Tim Storey

Center for Politics Announces Plans for “Kennedy Half-Century”

On the eve of 50th anniversary of the election of President John F. Kennedy, the University Center for Politics announced details for a major new book on JFK by Center Director Larry J. Sabato and the production of a national television documentary focused on the legacies of President Kennedy and his administration. Also, later this week Sabato will tape a special for NBC’s “Meet the Press” commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Great Debates of 1960; and then travel to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas, where he will begin a series of interviews with eyewitnesses to the Kennedy assassination.  Today’s announcement is part of the Center’s Golden Anniversary Series, a comprehensive series of events, productions and publications illuminating the landmark political events of the 1960s. Sabato’s new book, THE KENNEDY HALF-CENTURY: The Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, will be published in 2013 by Walker & Company, a division of Bloomsbury Publishing.  Based on interviews with major political and media figures and ordinary citizens alike, along with new archival finds, the book will tell the compelling story of how John F. Kennedy’s life and administration, as well as his tragic death on November 22, 1963, have influenced the

UVA Center for Politics


Virtually every leading political indicator points to a midterm election this November that could range anywhere from difficult to disastrous for Democrats. The nation’s high unemployment rate, the declining approval ratings for President Barack Obama, and the Democrats’ lingering deficit in the generic congressional ballot all paint a dark picture for the ruling party. And now, it appears, the Republicans have another indicator going in their favor – the “battle of the primary ballots.” Two years ago, the Democrats had a big edge in presidential primary turnout, a reflection of the “enthusiasm gap” that benefited them from the start of the year to the end. This time, however, it is the Republicans who have the most energy. This is evident not only in polling data but also in the GOP’s lead of more than 3 million votes over the Democrats when comparing the number of ballots cast in each party’s primaries through the end of August. But this year, the primary ballot measurement could be a two-edged sword. The Republican advantage was built in many states on the excitement generated by newly activated legions of populist conservatives against choices favored by the Republican leadership. That infighting should not deter the

Rhodes Cook

State Legislatures in Play

In the past two weeks, the Crystal Ball has published its first extended state legislative analyses, looking at the 6,115 seats in the state senates and the state houses up in November (in 46 states). Tim Storey of the NCSL identified the chambers that are competitive and thus most likely to switch party control after the elections. Then Prof. Alan Abramowitz applied his well-known congressional election prediction model to the state legislatures, and suggested that Republicans could expect to gain 8-10 chambers and 250-400 net seats in all the states combined. The following map by Joseph Figueroa of the UVA Center for Politics is a visual summary of those conclusions. Obviously, the close Republican-held chambers on the map are much less likely to switch party control than the Democratic-held chambers. So as we move into the fall, while watching them all, our eyes will naturally gravitate to the blue states on this map.

Larry J. Sabato


Everyone already knows the 2010 elections are significant and competitive. Let’s add record-setting to that description. Why? 2010 features the most U.S. Senate seats on the November ballot (37) since 1962. 2010 also has the most elections for governor ever on the same ballot (also 37). 2010 has produced one of the highest percentages of Democratic-versus-Republican House line-ups in modern history. Fully 405 of House races out of 435 have both a Democrat and a Republican running for the seat—the gold standard of basic two-party choice in democracy. Democrats have nominated 410 candidates for the House and Republicans have an even larger number, 430. For the GOP this is the most congressional districts they have ever contested. Elections always matter, and citizens should vote. But if history is predictive, only about 40% of adults in the United States will cast a ballot in 2010, as opposed to a much larger 63% in 2008. Perhaps the record number of elections—not to mention the high stakes—will encourage more Americans to participate this fall. We at the Crystal Ball certainly hope so. —Larry J. Sabato, editor, with the assistance of Joe Figueroa and Isaac Wood

Larry J. Sabato


Every campaign season is filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly—enough to fill a book. Here’s an interim selection of examples as we prepare to enter the full-blown general election season. GOOD CANDIDATE DOING BADLY: In another year, Congressman—we mean Sheriff—Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) could win the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). But 2010 probably isn’t that year, even with the GOP nomination of a lobbyist, former Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), who lived until recently in Virginia and said publicly that he wanted to retire in North Carolina. GOOD DAY, SENATOR: In Senate races, there is no more guaranteed party switch than in North Dakota, where Gov. John Hoeven (R) isn’t even breaking a sweat against Democrat Tracy Potter. When Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) retired, that was all she wrote. GOOD MANEUVERING: Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) took a dicey situation, the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, and quickly steered the process through the shoals, managing to save a Senate seat for his party in a tough year in a Red state. Oh, by the way, he managed to get himself the Senate seat in the process. And he created a new Democratic star for the future

Larry J. Sabato

The Polarization of the Supreme Court

On the eve of Elena Kagan’s expected confirmation to the Supreme Court, we are delighted to share with our readers the following piece from David Kuhn, the Chief Political Correspondent for RealClearPolitics. We have become accustomed to “minimum winning coalitions” in recent decades. But throughout the 19th century, a one-vote majority decided only 1 percent of cases on average. Between 1900 and 1950, that average rose to 4 percent. Since 1951, the average rate is 17 percent. One-vote majority rulings carry the same legal weight as all majority opinions. Yet they lack the symbolic power of decisions by a more united court. Experts consider these 5-to-4 decisions to be more expressly political than others, representing a threat to the court’s moral authority. In effect, that means the rise in hyper-partisanship in recent decades–visible from Congress to cable television–extends to the one branch designed to be above partisan politics. Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings this week served as a fresh reminder of that fact. Kagan spoke of the court in idealized tones. She venerated the high court’s “evenhandedness and impartiality.” But the perception of the high court, at least within the political class, is increasingly the opposite. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey

David Kuhn