Republican Party Still Holds the Reins in U.S. Policymaking

By Rob Moore

Despite recent Democratic success in White House races, Republicans control 69 of the country’s 99 state legislative districts.

I’m writing to you today to assure you that the Republican Party is alive and well. It is a strong, vital, and effective multi-state organization that has grown in power over the past five years.
Don’t expect 2016 to be any different.

Despite the disastrous 2016 presidential campaign (which, despite all the ruckus, could still end up sweet for the GOP), the Republican Party has been a powerful force at every other level of government since the 2010 “Tea Party Revolution.”

With 247 of the House of Representative’s 435 seats, the Republican Party has their largest majority since the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression. With 54 of 100 US Senate seats, the Grand Old Party is one seat away from tying their record since that same 1930 congress. The Republican Party has been able to use this congressional edge over the past four years to effect extreme budget cuts, squash immigration reform, and most recently to hold the President back from appointing a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia.

While the Democrats have a chance to take back the Senate this year, the House is almost guaranteed to stay in GOP hands due to structural advantages in congressional districts, meaning the party is likely to continue to have a large say in federal policymaking.

The GOP’s edge is even more dominating in state government. After the 2014 elections, the Republican Party found themselves in control of 69 of the country’s 99 legislative chambers—an all-time high for the party. The GOP also holds 31 of the nation’s 50 governorships and 3 of the 4 “toss-up” gubernatorial seats this year are currently held by Democrats.

Because of the gridlock we’ve seen in DC over the past few years, GOP dominance in US policymaking can most clearly be seen in state government.  More state restrictions on abortion were enacted between 2011 and 2013 than in the past decade. Between 2012 and 2016, traditionally pro-union rust belt states Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and West Virginia all passed labor-gutting “Right to Work” legislation. Since 2010, more than a dozen state governments have cut personal income tax rates, shifting the tax burden to more regressive, anti-poor sales taxes.

While a bad candidate at the top of the ticket could have significant down-ballot effects in this election year, even a good year for Democrats would still leave Republicans with control of a large number of policymaking bodies throughout the country. The Republican Party isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Rob Moore is a Master of Public Policy student at the Goldman School of Public Policy. He writes on state policy and the politics of public policy.