Oklahoma ranked 32nd in legislative electoral competitiveness

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 21-Oct-2010

A study of competitiveness in state legislative races has ranked Oklahoma 32nd out of 46 states investigated.

The study from Ballotpedia, an online news service, focused on three distinct categories. While the study did not attempt to analyze the possible effect of “gerrymandering” (drawing districts in such as way as to benefit one political party or the other), the impact of “safe seat” district lines is implied in the data.

The Sooner State was placed 29th in terms of incumbents facing a primary, 40th in terms of major candidates facing major party competition, and 18th in the proportion of open seats.

Geoff Pallay, project director for the investigation, told CapitolBeatOK, “The most significant ranking for Oklahoma is 40th, in terms of major party competition. We used this as a factor, because with either a Democrat or Republican winning 99% of the time, when only one of those parties fields a candidate, that in essence guarantees victory.”

The Ballotpedia study noted that Oklahoma has a total of 125 total legislative seats up for election (24 in the state Senate, 101 in the state House of Representatives).

All told, Pallay said, “There are 55 candidates in Oklahoma that have no major party competition. That’s 55.20% of the races, which is one of the highest totals in the country. Only six states had less competition based on this category — Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Wyoming, South Carolina.”

On the plus side in terms of Pallay’s analysis, “Oklahoma has term limits, which helps its ranking in terms of open seats (where an incumbent is not running).”  He noted that 22 legislators did not seek re-election, 17.6 percent of the total. That put the state at 18th in proportion of open seats. Pallay explained, “This is one of the categories where, despite Oklahoma being in the top half of the states, the percentage is still exceedingly low in terms of competitiveness.”

In all, only four Senate incumbents who decided to run faced a party primary. In the House, only eight incumbents who decided to run again had a party primary. Putting the analysis through another filter, six Senate incumbents who ran had no competition at all; 46 House incumbents faced no competition.

Pallay said “those are also low percentages. Overall, 76 incumbents running for re-election did not face a primary challenger. So subtracting the incumbents not running from total seats means 76 out of the 103 incumbents running faced no primary.”

The Ballotpedia investigation concluded the states most competitive in legislative races were New Hampshire, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and Missouri, while the least competitive were Texas, Tennessee, Delaware, Kentucky and New Mexico.

Of the 6,125 legislative seats up for election this year, incumbents ran in 4,985. More than three-fourths (77.33%) had no primaries, 32.7% had no major party opposition, and 26% (1,295) had neither a primary nor a general election opponent.