Abstract: This analysis looks at a number of battleground state legislative chambers to determine how many votes Democrats would have needed in 2020 to gain a legislative majority in the districts that decided the majority. We collected top of ticket votes (President) and downballot votes for all races in these chambers. Using the number of seats that Democrats needed to gain a legislative majority, we determined: 1) the number of additional votes Democrats would have needed to turn out downballot, 2) and the number of voters downballot Democrats would have had to persuade away from downballot Republicans, to win the seats that decided the majority. We found that, even in states in which a legislative majority is likely out of Democratic reach in a single election, the number of votes Democrats would have needed to win in these chambers was reliably a very small amount of the total votes cast or a very small needed increase in turnout, often less than 1%. We conducted a similar analysis of the Virginia 2021 state legislative results, using Gubernatorial votes for top of ticket, and similarly found that Democrats lost control of the Virginia house by a very slim vote margin.


In 2020, Democrats gained a federal trifecta, but did not see accompanying gains in state legislative chambers. Even though Republicans may have gotten more votes than Democrats in some of these chambers in 2020 (although, in some cases, like the Michigan house, Democrats got more votes than Republicans and still remained the minority), the actual number of votes each party needs to get to hang onto or gain the legislative majority is much smaller. Between gerrymandering and natural geographical sorting between Democrats and Republicans, battleground state legislative majorities often hinge on the election outcomes in a handful of competitive toss-up districts.

Looking at some key battleground chambers in 2020, it is clear the Democrats were much closer to the majority than commonly thought. This analysis seeks to shed light on how many votes for downballot Democrats were needed in the key districts that decided the legislative majorities in these chambers. Especially in states like Arizona and Michigan where Democrats only needed 2 and 4 seats to gain a majority, respectively, the number of votes by which Democrats lost was small. While this analysis does not claim that all of these legislative majorities would have been possible to flip, it does attempt to put into perspective the relatively narrow group of voters who decide the fates of entire state legislative chambers.

Further, this analysis seeks to model the votes in two ways that are common in organizing work: persuasion and mobilization. This analysis establishes both how many more votes Democrats would have needed to turn out downballot to win these majority-making races, as well as how many votes downballot Democrats would have needed to persuade away from downballot Republicans to flip these chambers in the seats that really mattered.

An additional analysis for the 2021 Virginia races was included to determine if these trends continued past 2020.


We collected 2020 vote totals by party in all state legislative districts from Secretary of State election records in the following chambers: Arizona house and senate; Florida house and senate; Georgia house and senate; Michigan house; Minnesota senate; North Carolina house and senate; Pennsylvania house and senate; Texas house; and Wisconsin assembly (house).

We first determined the number of seats Democrats needed to have won in order to have flipped the chamber using Ballotpedia. We then identified the districts with the closest losing margins, and determined the total number of votes in the losing margins that decided the state legislative majority across all majority-making seats. For example, if Democrats needed 2 seats to win the majority, we determined the 2 closest losing margins for Democrats in the state and used the total loss margin from those specific races to determine how many votes Democrats would have needed to win the chamber. This number is listed as the Total Vote Difference in Table 1.

We then calculated the number of votes that Democrats would have needed to persuade away from Republicans downballot, which is half of the total vote difference, plus 1 vote for each race Democrats would have needed to win to flip the chamber. This number is listed as Persuasion Votes Needed in Table 1. We also calculated the number of additional votes Democrats would have needed to turnout to overcome the total vote difference, which is calculated as the total vote difference plus 1 vote for each race Democrats would have needed to win to flip the chamber. This number is listed as Turnout Votes Needed in Table 1. Percentages are derived using the respective number divided by the total number of votes cast in the chamber.

We also collected vote totals by party for President in the same chambers to look at potential effects of drop-off, which is the difference between the number of people who voted for a party’s candidate at the top of the ticket (for 2020, President) and the number of people who voted for state legislative candidates of that party. These drop-off numbers should be interpreted with caution since not all downballot races are contested in all chambers, and some chambers, especially senate chambers, hold staggered elections where only half of the chamber’s seats are up for election in a given year. Additionally, please note that Arizona’s presidential vote count was doubled for the house results to determine their drop-off number, as Arizonans get 2 votes for Arizona house (and obviously just a single vote for president).

For the 2021 Virginia analyses, we collected vote totals for state legislative candidates, and vote totals for gubernatorial candidates as the top of ticket numbers. We similarly narrowed to the 3 districts that determined the Virginia house majority and added the 3 vote margins together for the total vote difference. All indicators were calculated similarly to the 2020 analysis.

Specific Aims

There were two main hypotheses in this exploration: 

H1) That Democrats would have only needed to improve Democratic state legislative turnout by 1% or less to cover the margins Democrats lost by.

and, H2) that Democrats would have only needed to persuade 0.5% more state legislative voters (or less) that cast a ballot in the 2020 election to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans;

Due to the math involved, these hypotheses must either both have supporting evidence or both lack supporting evidence.


Results from the 2020 races were analyzed descriptively and summarized in Table 1. When considering the first hypothesis, that turnout of Democrats in the election just had to increase by 1% or less to cover the margin Democrats lost by, also appears to be true in 9 of 14 chambers (64.29%). In the chambers that did not meet this threshold, numbers ranged from 1.07-2.04%. Similarly to the persuasion finding, it appears turnout would have only needed to increase a small amount for Democrats to have covered the margins by which Republicans won control of the chamber by.

As expected, the second hypothesis, that Democrats only needed to persuade 0.5% or fewer of the voters who cast a downballot vote to switch that vote from Republicans to Democrats instead, it appears that 9 of the 14 chambers (64.29%) fell into this category. The remaining 5 chambers ranged from 0.53-1.02%. For the chambers that did fall into the 0.5% or less criteria, the number of votes that represented ranged from 909 to 11,184. Considering no fewer than 1.37 million Presidential votes were cast in each of these chambers, this indicates that Democrats were incredibly close to flipping many of these chambers in 2020 and generally failed to do so by a fairly small margin.

We also engaged in a limited analysis of downballot drop-off, where top-of-ticket voters do not cast a vote downballot. This analysis indicates that far more voters dropped off the ballot after voting for top of ticket Democrats than made up the total vote difference in the majority-making races. Due to the complexity of interpreting these numbers, we cannot say for sure that Democrats already had enough top of ticket votes in these districts drop-off to make the difference between the downballot win or loss. But it does seem likely that at least some amount of people did drop off in these important majority-making districts.

Results from the 2021 Virginia elections can be found in Table 2. Democrats went into the election with a 55-45 majority in the Virginia house. They lost the majority by a total vote difference of 733 votes in the three closest districts. This means that Democrats would have needed to persuade 370 voters to vote for the Democrat rather than Republican state legislative candidates to maintain the majority. Alternatively, Democrats would have needed to turn out 736 additional downballot voters in these 3 districts to maintain their majority. Both metrics fall far below the 0.5% cutoff for persuasion and the 1% cutoff for mobilization, at 0.01% and 0.02%, respectively.

Looking deeper at downballot drop-off, Democratic candidate for governor Terry McAuliffe received over 60,000 more votes than state legislative Democrats, while now-Governor Republican Glenn Youngkin received 2,522 fewer votes than his state legislative party-mates. It is unclear if this drop-off could account for the total vote difference between Democrats and Republicans in the 3 majority-making districts, but it is possible that drop-off could have accounted for these critical downballot shortfalls.


Overall this data indicates that Democrats were much closer to flipping state legislative chambers in 2020 than appears based on aggregate vote totals for the whole chamber. Chambers are won by the closest elections, and in 7 of these chambers, Democrats only needed to beat out Republicans in 5 or fewer additional races to gain the majority. The margins in these key races, as we have seen, are simply not that large.

Further, it appears that this trend continued in 2021 in Virginia, where we saw Democrats lose the house by 733 votes. This is not to suggest that flipping legislative chambers is ever easy. But it’s important to keep in mind that aggregate vote totals include uncontested races where extreme partisans run up the vote total. Majorities are decided based on swing districts where margins tend to be much closer between major party candidates. The analysis above simply illustrates this point: in majority-making districts, Democratic control is not out of reach.

Table 1: 2020 Votes to Majority in Battleground State Legislative Chambers

Chamber Seats to majority  Total State Leg votes cast Total vote difference  Persuasion votes needed (as % of total SL votes) Turnout votes needed (inc in turnout) Drop off votes (Biden – State Leg Dems)
AZ lower 2 5,028,382 4,449  2,226 (0.04%) 4,451 (0.09%) 584,467⇬
AZ upper 2,978,458 11,201  5,602 (0.19%) 11,203 (0.38%) 287,049
FL lower 19  8,909,594 131,215  65,627 (0.74%) 131,234 (1.47%) 1,497,002†
FL upper 5,431,494 110,871  55,441 (1.02%) 110,876 (2.04%) 2,654,727†♦
GA lower 14  4,558,099 20,119  10,074 (0.22%) 20,133 (0.44%) 271,088
GA upper 4,432,686 75,160  37,587 (0.85%) 75,167 (1.70%) 460,228
MI lower 5,349,675 8,607 4,308 (0.08%) 8,611 (0.16%) 136,761
MN upper 2 3,167,929 1,813  909 (0.03%) 1,815 (0.06%) 138,799
NC lower 10 5,266,692 20,661 10,341 (0.20%) 20,671 (0.39%) 100,519
NC upper 5,343,449 22,123  11,066 (0.21%) 22,127 (0.41%) 93,702
PA lower 12  6,479,724 22,344  11,184 (0.17%) 22,356 (0.35%) 418,639
PA upper 3,223,325 49,690  24,849 (0.77%) 49,694 (1.5%) 1,877,497♦
TX lower 10,381,624 21,566  10,792 (0.10%) 21,575 (0.21%) 742,947
WI lower 12  3,095,639 32,962 16,493 (0.53%) 32,974 (1.07%) 228,738
Totals 106 73,646,770 532,781 266,499 (0.36%) 532,887 (0.72%) 9,492,163

Biden votes were double counted in AZ house because voters get 2 votes for AZ house

Only half of the state legislative seats in the chamber were up for election

Uncontested state legislative races are canceled entirely in Florida, making chamber wide downballot drop-off difficult to calculate

Majority-making district(s) in last election: AZ lower – Districts 6, 21; AZ upper – Districts 17, 20; FL lower – Districts 2, 15, 21, 26, 27, 28, 41, 42, 58, 60, 64, 69, 72, 84, 93, 103, 105, 114, 120; FL upper – Districts 9, 20, 25, 37, 39; GA lower – Districts 35, 43, 44, 49, 73, 97, 104, 110, 119, 132, 138, 147, 151, 164; GA upper – Districts 8, 17, 23, 32, 37, 45, 56; MI lower – Districts 39, 45, 48, 104; MN upper – Districts 26, 34; NC lower – Districts 12, 37, 43, 45, 59, 74, 82, 83, 93, 98; NC upper – Districts 7, 9, 24, 31; PA lower – Districts 18, 26, 28, 33, 55, 105, 106, 143, 151, 160, 168, 176; PA upper – Districts 13, 15, 37, 49; TX lower – Districts 26, 66, 67, 92, 94, 108, 112, 132, 138; WI lower – Districts 4, 15, 21, 24, 30, 51, 55, 82, 85, 88, 92, 96


Table 2: 2021 Votes to Majority in Virginia House of Delegates

Chamber Seats to retain majority  Total State Leg votes cast Total vote difference  Existing votes needed (as % of total SL votes) New votes needed (inc in turnout) Drop off votes (McAuliffe – State Leg Dems)
VA lower 3 3,231,067 733 370 (0.01%) 736 (0.02%) 64,270

Majority-making district(s) in last election: Districts 63, 85, 91