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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Limits of Ticket-Splitting

 In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race.   Our next book, title TBA, discusses the 2020 results.

The victories of Mark Kelly, John Hickenlooper, and Tommy Tuberville mean that Arizona, Colorado, and Alabama no longer have split Senate delegations.  In the 117th Congress, only six or seven states will have split delegations, depending on the Georgia runoff.  (I count King and Sanders as Democrats):

  • Maine
  • Montana
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

So we will have the smallest number of split Senate delegations since the direct election of Senators.

The last state with a significant amount of split-ticket voting was Maine. Democrat Sara Gideon did 10.6 points worse than Biden, while Republican Sen. Susan Collins did 7.1 points better than Trump. Because Maine is a fairly competitive state, that was enough for Collins to win the state even though Trump lost it. That gives Maine a unique distinction: It is the only state so far1 that didn’t vote for the same party for president and Senate, something that used to be fairly common. But this year, Collins was the only candidate whose bipartisan bona fides (she voted against Trump more often than any other Republican senator, most recently her vote against now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett) were strong enough to pull the trick.

All other Senate races hewed quite close to presidential results — and because this year’s Senate races took place largely on Republican turf, that was a big blow to Democrats’ efforts to flip the chamber. Before Election Day, Democrats were hopeful that strong candidates like Steve Bullock, Jaime Harrison and Barbara Bollier could swim against the partisan tide and pull out wins in Montana, South Carolina and Kansas, respectively. But for all the money they raised, for all of their theoretical crossover appeal, Bullock ran just 4.6 points ahead of Biden, Harrison just 0.8 points ahead and Bollier just 0.3 points ahead. As a result, none came particularly close to winning their very red states.


A better take is that Democrats “performed poorly” in the Senate and House simply compared with pre-election expectations. But they still won more House seats than Republicans did, and arguably, the main reason they didn’t do better in the Senate is because of the chamber’s Republican bias. In reality, Democrats performed about the same in all three races, but the structures through which those results were filtered — the Electoral College, the Senate seats that happened to be up and a House map biased toward Republicans — produced different results.