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Which States Have the Most Competitive U.S. House Elections?

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Wyoming, New Hampshire and Iowa lead the nation for the most competitive U.S. House races since 2002; Massachusetts, Alabama, Arkansas, and New York the least competitive

Last year, Smart Politics released a report documenting how North Carolina, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Missouri had served up the most competitive U.S. Senate contests in the nation across the last two decades - with the average margin of victory in such races being less than 10 points in each state.

None of those states, however, crack even the Top 10 in a new analysis of the states with the most competitive U.S. House races since new district lines went into effect in 2002.

A Smart Politics analysis of 1,740 general election contests since 2002 finds the state with the lowest average margin of victory in U.S. House races was Wyoming, whose at-large seat was decided by an average of 12.0 points across the last four election cycles.

Interestingly, the Equality State's general election U.S. Senate races have been decided by an average margin of 45.8 points during this span.

Other states ranking in the Top 5 most competitive for their congressional district contests are New Hampshire (#2, 14.2 points), Iowa (#3, 15.9 points), North Dakota (#4, 19.9 points), and Nevada (#5, 22.2 points).

Seven of the top 10 most competitive states in the nation for U.S. House races come from either the Mountain (Wyoming at #1, Nevada at #5, New Mexico at #9, Colorado at #10) or the West North Central (Iowa at #3, North Dakota at #4, South Dakota at #6) regional divisions of the country.

Not surprisingly, states with the fewest number of congressional districts generally had lowest average margins of victory in their U.S. House contests, while heavily-populated states with large numbers of districts generally yielded the least competitive races on average.

· The seven states with at-large seats (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming) had the lowest collective average margin of victories at 26.7 points.

· The five states with two U.S. House seats (Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island) had the second lowest collective average margin of victory at 28.3 points per contest.

Overall, the 24 states with five or fewer U.S. House seats yielded congressional district elections that were 10 points more competitive (30.8-point average margin of victory) than the 26 states represented in the U.S. House by six or more Representatives (40.7 points).

U.S. House races across the nation have been trending more competitive during the last two election cycles in the midst of the Democratic tsunamis of 2006 and 2008, as compared to 2002 and 2004.

· In 2002, the average margin of victory across the 435 House general election races was 42.5 points. That number dropped slightly to 40.7 points in 2004.

· By 2006, however, the average margin of victory fell to 36.4 points, with Democrats not only picking up 31 seats but also losing another 30 races by less than 10 points.

· In 2008, the average margin of victory nationwide in U.S. House contests was 37.3 points.

· Overall, across the 1,740 general election U.S. House races since 2002, the average margin of victory has been 39.2 points.

And what states are contributing the most to these non-competitive races?

The state with the most blow-out elections is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 40 U.S. House contests conducted since 2002 have been decided by a whopping average margin of victory of 73.0 points.

The biggest reason the Bay State has generated such lopsided contests is that the Massachusetts Republican Party has failed to field a candidate in 60 percent of the state's U.S. House races since 2002 (24 of 40). (e.g. Democrat Richard Neal (MA-02) has not faced a Republican opponent since 1996).

The closest a Republican has come to winning a U.S. House seat in Massachusetts during the past decade is 26.1 points - when GOPer Charles McCarthy lost to Marty Meehan (pictured) in the state's 5th CD in 2002.

Other states who have failed to field candidates from either the Democratic or Republican parties in a high percentage of U.S. House races include Arkansas (43.8 percent; 7 of 16 races), Alabama (35.7 percent; 10 of 28 races), Virginia (31.8 percent; 14 of 44 races), and Florida (30.0 percent; 30 of 100 races).

On the flip side of the coin, 17 states have fielded both Democratic and Republican candidates in every U.S. House general election contest since 2002 - the most impressive of which being the states of Indiana (9 seats), Washington (9 seats), and Minnesota (8 seats) - the most populated states among the group.

Other states fielding both Democratic and GOP candidates in every U.S. House race since 2002 include Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

Aside from Massachusetts (#50) and New York (#47, 49.4 points), the remaining eight least competitive states in U.S. House elections since 2002 all hail from the Southern region of the United States.

Rounding out the Bottom 10 are Alabama (#49, 52.9 points), Arkansas (#48, 51.6 points), Georgia (#46, 48.6 points), Tennessee (#45, 46.0 points), Florida (#44, 45.7 points), Louisiana (#43, 45.5 points), Maryland (#42, 42.9 points), and Texas (#41, 42.3 points).

Overall, the Midwest region's 12 states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin) were the most competitive, with a collective average victory margin in U.S. House races of 33.6 points across the 400 races conducted in the region since 2002.

The 13 Western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming) comprised the next most competitive region in the country, with an average victory margin of 35.4 points across 392 races since 2002.

Far behind were the Southern region - with an average margin of victory of 42.5 points per U.S. House race - and the Northeast region, averaging 44.6 points.

Average Margin of Victory in U.S. House Elections by Region, 2002-2008

Region
States
Total MoV
Races
Ave.
Midwest
IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI
13,443.1
400
33.6
West
AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY
13,872.8
392
35.4
South
AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
26,188.7
616
42.5
Northeast
CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT
14,801.6
332
44.6
General elections only. Data compiled from Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives by Smart Politics.

In addition to examining margin of victory, Smart Politics also calculated the percentage of highly competitive races notched by each state - that is, the percentage of races decided by less than 10 percentage points.

South Dakota and Wyoming led the way with 50 percent of their respective four at-large general election U.S. House races decided by less than 10 points.

South Dakota Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (pictured) first lost (2002) then won (2004) two close races early in her political career, each by less than 8 points (not to mention her narrow special election victory in June 2004). Meanwhile, GOPers Barbara Cubin (winning by 0.5 points in 2006) and Cynthia Lummis (winning by 9.8 points in 2008) provided some unusual political drama in Wyoming during the last two election cycles.

Also providing a good dose of suspense on election night during the past decade were the states of New Hampshire (37.5 percent highly competitive, with 3 of 8 races decided by less than 10 points), Indiana (30.6 percent; 11 of 36 races), and Connecticut (30.0 percent, 6 of 20 races).

Eight states, however, did not host a single U.S. House race that was narrowly decided since redistricting: Arkansas (0 of 16 races), Delaware (0 of 4 races), Hawaii (0 of 8 races), Massachusetts (0 of 40 races), Mississippi (0 of 16 races), Montana (0 of 4 races), Rhode Island (0 of 8 races), and West Virginia (0 of 12 races) all failed to produce a highly competitive race.

Check back at Smart Politics all this week for further analysis and reports on U.S. House election data, including rankings of the most competitive and least competitive congressional districts since 2002.

Average Margin of Victory in U.S. House Races By State, 2002-2008

Rank
State
Seats
’02
’04
’06
’08
Ave.
1
Wyoming
1
24.3
13.4
0.5
9.8
12.0
2
New Hampshire
2
17.8
23.4
4.9
10.5
14.2
3
Iowa
5
13.1
18.1
11.5
20.9
15.9
4
North Dakota
1
4.8
19.2
31.4
24.0
19.9
5
Nevada
3
28.1
28.9
13.6
18.2
22.2
6
South Dakota
1
7.9
7.5
39.8
35.2
22.6
7
Maine
2
15.8
19.0
35.2
21.8
23.0
8
Indiana
9
23.3
25.3
19.1
28.6
24.1
9
New Mexico
3
41.0
22.2
22.8
16.5
25.6
10
Colorado
7
27.1
24.6
25.4
26.0
25.8
11
Connecticut
5
23.5
25.6
23.8
32.0
26.2
12
Idaho
2
29.5
40.2
16.4
21.8
27.0
12
Utah
3
21.1
27.1
25.9
33.8
27.0
12
Arizona
8
26.8
35.0
23.7
22.6
27.0
15
Minnesota
8
30.2
26.6
25.4
27.6
27.5
16
Montana
1
31.9
31.6
19.8
29.8
28.3
17
Washington
9
26.0
28.7
29.1
31.3
28.8
18
Kentucky
6
30.1
37.0
26.6
29.4
30.8
19
Delaware
1
45.4
39.4
18.4
23.1
31.6
19
North Carolina
13
35.9
28.7
32.9
29.0
31.6
21
Alaska
1
57.2
48.7
16.6
5.1
31.9
22
Ohio
18
40.1
38.5
24.1
25.9
32.2
23
Kansas
4
33.0
35.8
30.9
30.4
32.5
24
Oregon
5
30.8
28.9
30.3
47.4
34.4
24
Missouri
9
37.1
31.9
34.5
34.1
34.4
26
Hawaii
2
32.1
27.3
30.4
52.1
35.5
26
Oklahoma
5
30.0
41.3
33.1
37.6
35.5
28
Nebraska
3
61.0
37.7
12.1
33.1
36.0
29
Pennsylvania
19
45.6
48.2
28.3
26.7
37.2
30
Michigan
15
42.9
36.1
37.6
32.4
37.3
31
New Jersey
13
41.6
38.1
40.6
34.0
38.6
32
South Carolina
6
57.6
51.6
24.9
20.6
38.7
32
Mississippi
4
35.6
43.0
45.4
30.9
38.7
34
West Virginia
3
53.3
27.4
27.3
49.4
39.4
35
Wisconsin
8
52.6
37.7
34.8
36.3
40.4
36
Vermont
1
32.0
43.1
8.7
78.4
40.6
37
Virginia
11
62.2
36.8
35.5
32.2
41.7
38
Illinois
19
46.9
40.6
38.2
41.6
41.8
38
Rhode Island
2
38.3
41.0
45.7
42.3
41.8
40
California
53
38.3
41.8
42.8
44.6
41.9
41
Texas
32
47.0
41.1
38.3
42.7
42.3
42
Maryland
8
34.2
43.5
51.0
42.9
42.9
43
Louisiana
7
54.2
46.8
42.2
38.6
45.5
44
Florida
25
53.4
58.0
40.2
31.1
45.7
45
Tennessee
9
45.9
48.3
37.6
52.3
46.0
46
Georgia
13
50.1
61.9
39.7
42.8
48.6
47
New York
29
54.2
46.9
50.5
46.0
49.4
48
Arkansas
4
59.6
42.7
33.4
70.7
51.6
49
Alabama
7
50.2
48.0
61.8
51.5
52.9
50
Massachusetts
10
73.0
65.0
75.8
78.2
73.0
 
Total
435
42.5
40.7
36.4
37.3
39.2
General elections only. Data compiled from Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives by Smart Politics.

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Previous post: Will Minnesotans Elect Another Lawyer to the Governor's Mansion in 2010?
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