Much Ado About Everything No 8: Gubernatorial Elections Matter Too

The 6 November gubernatorials are important in their own right and will bear strongly on post-2020 general elections.

[Note: This article is designed to complement my 23 October one on Donald Trump’s campaign tactics for the midterms which focused purely on the Congressional elections.]

Back on 24 December, publishing on the 2018 US midterms for the first time, I noted, literally in parentheses, as follows:

“6 November 2018 will also seegubernatorial electionsin 36 US states and three US territories. Furthermore, 87 out of 99 state legislature chambers are also due to hold elections. These ballots are not only important in their own right but also because many states task governors and state legislators with drawing up congressional district boundaries, with a review of the current boundaries due in the wake of the 2020 national census.”

Especially outside of the US, with the odd exception (perhaps notably this year, Florida) state elections garner very little attention. Yet, as is the case in all federal systems, they are important. And especially in the United States. It is, therefore, time for me to drop the parentheses and consider, albeit still relatively briefly, the likely outcome of this year's gubernatorial elections and related implications in more detail.

First, and elaborating the medium-term, in a country where independent electoral boundary commissions are the exception rather than the rule and where gerrymandering has a long and dishonourable history (with both parties guilty), political control of states is of considerable import when it comes to recasting electoral districts after a ten-yearly census. As top psephologist Nate Silver points out in a 17 October analysis on which I am drawing heavily for this article, governors elected this year will still be in place when redistricting comes around following the 2020 census. Keeping firmly in mind the impact which the redistricting which followed the 2010 census (when the Republicans controlled a whooping two-thirds of states) is still having on general elections, it is clear that the 2021 redistricting stands to affect significantly the outcome of the general elections over the following decade including, of course (and thanks to the electoral college system) the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections.

A useful guide by Vox’s Stavros Agorakis to the 13 gubernatorial races which polls suggest are the most competitive can be found here.

More immediately, whatever the outcome of the Congressional elections, according to Mr Silver and his colleagues at FiveThirtyEight the gubernatorial elections promise to provide a fillip for the Democrats. The key underlying points here are twofold.

First, pretty much all forecasts point to a higher turnout nationally among Democratic Party supporters than among Republicans — which is not guaranteed to result in a majority in either House of Congress any more than it resulted in a Clinton victory in 2016).

However, and second, as Mr Silver puts it:

“In gubernatorial races…there’s no gerrymandering or Electoral College to worry about. So in some ways, they’ll make for the purest test of whether there really is going to be a ‘blue wave’ this year.”

As a result — and taking account of the states not up for grabs this year where the Democrats already have control (and where they already have an ‘edge’ in terms of population size) — FiveThirtyEight projects that Democrats will…

“…wind up with governorships in states representing about 60 percent of the US population, compared with 40 percent for Republicans”.

This being said, Mr Silver also points to two significant caveats.


:…few things are truly inevitable in gubernatorial races, especially in states without incumbents. Democrats are competitive in Oklahoma, for example, while Republicans have a fighting chance in Connecticut, despite it being a blue state in a blue year.”

Second, the chances of the Democrats winning control of a majority of states looks to be very slim.

Nevertheless, as Mr Silver suggests if, as seems likely based on all FiveThirtyEight’s models, they win at least five (ie California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan) of nine states with a population of over 10 million at stake on 6 November — and especially if they also seize control in one or more of three others which are finely balanced (ie Georgia, Florida and Ohio) — it will have been a good day for the Democrats.

Alastair Newton