Midterm hopes for Democrats in 2020 hang on future elections

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Chuck Grassley from Iowa and Chuck Schumer from New York are two of the most influential members of the US Senate

Democrats have struggled to build on 2018 gains of state-level legislative majorities in recent years.

This weekend, their states fared far better than in 2016, according to the latest National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) report.

The Republican majority held in most states will likely continue to control governance for the next two years.

However, Democrats have some hope for further gains in states led by voters who leaned left in 2016.

Gains in recent years have been led by Democrats in California, New York, Florida, Washington and Pennsylvania, and a number of Republican-controlled states have flipped to what is sometimes known as the “blue wave”.

Every state has two legislative chambers and 100 statewide offices. Although some states, such as Texas, are among the most important in terms of setting national policy, their state legislative assemblies and cabinets have far less power than those of some of the party-dominated states.

‘Big spending fun’

The 2019 NCSL report was meant to help states plan for policymaking in the months before the 2020 presidential election.

The report considered partisan and ideological breakdowns of legislative bodies.

Based on the map in the report, the number of states with Republicans controlling both chambers increased to 28 from 24. The number of states with Democrats in control of both chambers decreased to 15 from 17.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Democrats captured a number of the most populous states in 2016, including New York, California and Washington

In 15 states, Republicans retained control of the legislature and the governor’s office. In three states, Republicans retained control of the legislature but surrendered the governor’s office. There were five states where Republicans and Democrats held the same power but a different governor’s office.

Dana Verkoff, a professor of government at Ohio State University, says it is too early to tell what the 2019 NCSL numbers will mean for 2020 and beyond.

“These are non-partisan rules that set governing levels for elections, not policymaking,” she says.

“It could be a precursor to down the road stronger legislative majorities, but we have to wait to see how that develops. It depends in part on what happens in the president’s next term.”

Ms Verkoff says Democrats who were disappointed in the results of the 2016 election should be aware of the “big spending fun” those same party members will have in 2020.

“This is a heady time for Republicans,” she says. “They’re going to be very busy with budgets, taxes, education, all kinds of things.”

The Democratic gains also came at the expense of the independence of individual state legislatures.

This can be seen in what constitutes state-level policymaking. While Ms Verkoff says there were a number of policies that were agreed to in a conference call on Friday, states did not formally adopt the consent of the governors or legislative leaders as it relates to changing their laws.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Democrat-led New York state senate wrested control of the state Assembly from Republicans

She says some state-level government agencies, such as the departments of finance, human services and transportation, will oversee specific legislation, but that the direction they take will not change.

“We’re seeing a continued imbalance,” she says. “It’s absolutely an anomaly. The structure of government was not designed for this kind of federalism.”

However, Ms Verkoff says they still might be able to retain some control if the Democrats can fix the bottom tier of their national administration.

“With a better national electoral ground game and structure, there might be more to be gained in state houses,” she says.

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