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Balancing in the U.S. States, 1978–2009

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Michael A. Bailey*
Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA
Elliott B. Fullmer
Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA
Michael A. Bailey, Department of Government & Public Policy Institute, Georgetown University, Intercultural Center 681, Washington, DC 20057, USA Email:


Since the Civil War, the president's party has lost seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in all but three midterm election cycles. Many attribute this pattern to “balancing” by moderate voters who prefer a Democratic Congress when Republicans control the White House, and vice versa. Although a number of scholars have tested the balancing hypothesis, the debate remains unsettled. We argue that the U.S. states provide an excellent way to analyze the issue further. Similar to the national government, states feature an executive and (in most cases) a bicameral legislature whose members come up for election in both gubernatorial and state midterm years. If voters balance, one should observe such behavior in state elections when an executive's partisanship is known and a legislative choice is necessary. We examine state legislative elections from 1978 to 2009 and find evidence consistent with the balancing hypothesis.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s) 2011

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