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State legislatures: why Republican wave of 2010 is here to stay

Election 2012 is not expected to be a repeat of the historic 2010 Republican sweep, but recent redistricting might have helped the GOP cement its ascendancy for a few more years.

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“The districts in Arkansas are still relatively small and rural, which isn’t like all states, so candidates can run on their own name and not necessarily run on a party label,” says Storey of NCSL.

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More broadly, Republicans are expected to maintain control of a majority of state legislative chambers. A major factor is the remapping of district boundaries that took place in 2010. Typically, the majority party is tasked with the redistricting, which, more often than not, helps the party in power preserve its gains during the next 10 years.

“There’s no question that partisans use the redistricting process to their advantage in the short term, but also for the next decade, so that outcomes will be more favorable to them,” says Sundeep Iyer, an analyst at the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank in New York City.

But the benefits might not last until 2020.

“The general rule is that the redistricting norm persists for at least several elections because the new districts ensure the current majority will remain the future majority,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "So what you see today will persist in the near future, but will deteriorate over time.”

For now, that should allow Republicans to continue pushing their agenda of low taxes, spending cuts, and legislation against public-sector unions and illegal immigration, among other things. But states where Republican governors are facing reelection in 2014 – such as Wisconsin and Ohio – might trend more moderate in their policies, says Mr. Jacobson of PolitiFact.

“Those governors are now going to have to face voters for the first time since they won, and a number of them are more conservative than the electorate. That will shape how the next two years are going to play out and can certainly change the tone of what will happen,” he says.

For example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) found himself facing a recall election following spending cuts and an attack on public unions. Republicans now have the opportunity to ease their agenda during the next two years to help Governor Walker sail through a reelection, Jacobson says.

“They can afford to take a less high-temperature approach,” he says. “They can hold back to win voters to their side."


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