State Legislators Are Switching Parties at a Fast Rate: Kiplinger Economic Forecasts

Switching is pacing well above the 30-year average, with Dems losing more than the GOP.

To help you understand what is going on in Washington, across state governments and what we expect to happen in the future, our highly-experienced Kiplinger Letter team will keep you abreast of the latest developments and forecasts (Get a free issue of The Kiplinger Letter or subscribe). You'll get all the latest news first by subscribing, but we will publish many (but not all) of the forecasts a few days afterward online. Here’s the latest...

State lawmakers are switching parties at a faster clip than usual this year, with Democrats suffering the most defections so far. At the end of July, 10 state legislators had switched parties — half of them Democrats joining the GOP, while only one Republican became a Democrat — a pace well above the 30-year average. Look for the trend to continue. While levels of party switching are unlikely to surpass the record set in 2010 — when 28 state legislators swapped parties — the last three decades have seen a clear upward trend, particularly since 2000. 

The shift is a consequence of entrenched partisanship. As red states get redder and blue states bluer, the power of the minority party dwindles, increasing the temptation of lawmakers to join the majority and increase their clout. But ideological realignment of the parties has also played a major role. Since 1994, 83 state-level Democrats have become Republicans, compared with 25 Republicans who have switched to the Democratic Party. One reason for the disparity is the number of conservative Democrats in Southern states, such as Mississippi and Louisiana, who dropped their party as it moved further to the left.

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It’s not only state-level lawmakers swapping partisan affiliations. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has also suggested he may leave his party as he considers his political future. Manchin is up for reelection next year in deep-red West Virginia, where he would struggle to win a third full term as a Democrat. He also hasn’t ruled out a third-party bid for president, backed by the nonprofit No Labels

Look for Manchin to become an independent rather than a Republican if he decides to pull the trigger, having also made several disparaging remarks about the GOP. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) has already made a similar move, becoming an independent, but still routinely voting with the Democratic Party.

This forecast first appeared in The Kiplinger Letter, which has been running since 1923 and is a collection of concise weekly forecasts on business and economic trends, as well as what to expect from Washington, to help you understand what’s coming up to make the most of your investments and your money. Subscribe to The Kiplinger Letter.

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Sean Lengell
Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter

Sean Lengell covers Congress and government policy for The Kiplinger Letter. Before joining Kiplinger in January 2017 he served as a congressional reporter for eight years with the Washington Examiner and the Washington Times. He previously covered local news for the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. A native of northern Illinois who spent much of his youth in St. Petersburg, Fla., he holds a bachelor's degree in English from Marquette University.