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Which States Have the Most Split-Ticket Voting in Presidential-U.S. Senate Election Cycles?

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MT is the only state in the nation to split its presidential-U.S. Senate ticket in a majority of elections with ND and RI close behind; KS, WY, NC, and UT have the strongest straight-ticket record

With several Democratic U.S. Senators on the ballot in battleground or red-leaning states in 2012 (e.g. Missouri, Montana, West Virginia), some analysts expect President Barack Obama may be a drag at the top of the ticket in these key senatorial reelection battles.

However, although a strong top of the ticket is always preferred for a senatorial incumbent, voters in several states have demonstrated a long history of splitting their ticket in the top two races for federal office.

A Smart Politics study of the more than 800 U.S. Senate contests conducted during presidential election cycles over the last 100 years finds that three states have split their ballot for these two offices at least half of the time: Montana, North Dakota, and Rhode Island.

Overall, voters have split their ballots in presidential and U.S. Senate races less than 30 percent of the time since popular vote senatorial races were introduced about a century ago, doing so in just 245 out of 829 elections (29.6 percent).

Montana leads the nation in schizophrenic balloting, splitting its presidential-U.S. Senate ballot in nine out of 17 elections, or 53 percent of the time.

The Big Sky State will host one of the premiere U.S. Senate races in the nation next year, with one-term Democratic incumbent Jon Tester likely squaring off against at-large GOP U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg.

Obama lost Montana in 2008 by 2.4 points, and Tester might be seen as particularly vulnerable unless the president substantially improves his position in the coming year and a half.

However, Montana has a rich tradition of electing Democratic Senators while voting for a Republican in the race for the White House, doing so nine times: in 1924, 1928, 1952, 1960, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1996, and 2008.

The 53 percent rate at which Montanans have sent Democrats to the Senate when the GOP presidential nominee carried the state is nearly three times the national average of just 18.3 percent.

(Montana has never voted for a Democratic presidential nominee while electing a Republican U.S. Senator).

The other two states that have split their vote in presidential and U.S. Senate races at least half the time are North Dakota and Rhode Island - both of which also host Senate races in 2012.

Each state has split their top of the ballot for these federal offices eight times across 16 election cycles.

North Dakota would likely have padded that number in 2012 had Democrat Kent Conrad decided to seek a sixth term instead of opting to retire.

At this time the Democratic slot appears to be wide open, with former U.S. Representative Earl Pomeroy considered by some to be the party's best chance to hold the seat should he enter the race.

Another nine states have split their presidential and senatorial ticket at least 40 percent of the time - including five states holding U.S. Senate races in 2012: Minnesota (tied for #5, 44.4 percent), Delaware and Pennsylvania (tied for #7, 43.8 percent), and Massachusetts and Missouri (#11, 41.2 percent).

Despite Pennsylvania's high ranking on this list, one-term Democrat Bob Casey will be crossing his fingers for an Obama victory in the Keystone State.

Of the seven times Pennsylvanians have split their ticket in these contests, only once did they do so with a Republican presidential nominee and a Democratic Senator: in 1956, when the state elected Joseph Clark by less than 18,000 votes while helping to elect Dwight Eisenhower to a second term.

In another high-profile 2012 contest, Democrat Claire McCaskill can be heartened by the fact that Missouri has voted for a Republican presidential nominee and elected a Democratic Senator on four occasions: (in 1952, 1968, 1980, and 2000).

Missouri narrowly voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008.

Rounding out the Top 10 for split ticket voting are Oregon (#4, 47.4 percent), Louisiana (tied for #5, 44.4 percent), and Arkansas and New Hampshire (#7, 43.8 percent).

Current Trends

Looking at the data with a shorter historical lens reveals only five states currently have a streak of more than one consecutive election in which its presidential-U.S. Senate ballot has been split.

Maine (1988, 1996, 2000, 2008) and North Dakota (1988, 1992, 2000, 2004) lead the way with four consecutive cycles, followed by Pennsylvania (1992, 2000, 2004) and Arkansas (1996, 2004, 2008) with three and West Virginia (2000, 2008) with two.

Maine will likely extend that streak to five in 2012 with popular GOP incumbent Olympia Snowe heavily favored in a state likely to be carried by Obama.

Another six states split their presidential-U.S. Senate ballot the last time the two offices aligned in the same election cycle: Alaska, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, and South Dakota.

Straight-Ticket States

And what states have been least likely to deviate from a straight-ticket vote in presidential and U.S. Senate races?

Four states have done so on only one occasion during the last century: Kansas (#50, 5.6 percent), Wyoming (#49, 5.9 percent), Utah (#47, 6.3 percent), and North Carolina (#47, 6.3 percent).

Kansas has voted Republican for both offices 15 times, Democratic for both offices two times, and split the vote for a Democratic presidential nominee and a GOP Senator once (in 1936).

Wyoming and Utah split their ticket in 1928 with North Carolina doing it in 1968.

Other states populating the Bottom 10 include Indiana (#46, 11. percent), Wisconsin (#45, 12.5 percent), Illinois (#44, 16.7 percent), Vermont (#43, 17.6 percent), and Connecticut, Michigan, and Texas (#40, 18.8 percent).

Michigan, Connecticut, and Wisconsin (if Herb Kohl retires) will have U.S. Senate races to keep an eye on in 2012.

And then there are these interesting historical facts:

· Alaska is the only state that has never voted for a Democratic presidential nominee while electing a Democratic Senator in the same cycle. Five states have done so just one time: Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Florida has elected Democrats to both offices the most times with 10 followed by Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, and West Virginia with nine.

· Two states have never voted for a Republican presidential nominee while electing a GOP Senator in the same cycle: Arkansas and Hawaii. Rhode Island and Louisiana have done so just one time.

Kansas and Indiana voters have backed both Republican presidential and U.S. Senate candidates on the most occasions with 15 and 14 respectively.

· Seventeen states have never voted for a Democratic presidential nominee while electing a Republican to the U.S. Senate: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Oregon and Pennsylvania have done so the most times with six, followed by Massachusetts and New Hampshire with five.

· Kansas is the only state in the nation that has never voted for a Republican presidential nominee while electing a Democratic U.S. Senator. Another 10 states have done so in just one election: Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

As reported above, Montana has split its ballot in this fashion a nation-leading nine times, with Nevada and North Dakota next at six.

Largest Percentage of Split Ticket Voting in Presidential and U.S. Senate Elections by State

Rank
State
Split
Total
% Split
1
Montana*
9
17
52.9
2
North Dakota*
8
16
50.0
2
Rhode Island*
8
16
50.0
4
Oregon
9
19
47.4
5
Louisiana
8
18
44.4
5
Minnesota*
8
18
44.4
7
Arkansas
7
16
43.8
7
Delaware*
7
16
43.8
7
New Hampshire
7
16
43.8
7
Pennsylvania*
7
16
43.8
11
Massachusetts*
7
17
41.2
11
Missouri*
7
17
41.2
13
Georgia
7
18
38.9
13
Nevada*
7
18
38.9
13
New Jersey*
7
18
38.9
16
South Dakota
6
16
37.5
16
Washington*
6
16
37.5
18
Maine*
6
17
35.3
18
Tennessee*
6
17
35.3
20
Alaska
3
9
33.3
21
Alabama
5
16
31.3
21
Nebraska*
5
16
31.3
21
New York*
5
16
31.3
21
Virginia*
5
16
31.3
25
California*
5
17
29.4
26
Colorado
5
18
27.8
26
Florida*
5
18
27.8
28
Kentucky
5
19
26.3
29
Hawaii*
2
8
25.0
29
Iowa
4
16
25.0
29
Maryland*
4
16
25.0
29
Ohio*
4
16
25.0
33
Arizona*
4
17
23.5
33
Mississippi*
4
17
23.5
33
New Mexico*
4
17
23.5
33
South Carolina
4
17
23.5
33
West Virginia*
4
17
23.5
38
Idaho
4
18
22.2
39
Oklahoma
4
19
21.1
40
Connecticut*
3
16
18.8
40
Michigan*
3
16
18.8
40
Texas*
3
16
18.8
43
Vermont*
3
17
17.6
44
Illinois
3
18
16.7
45
Wisconsin*
2
16
12.5
46
Indiana*
2
18
11.1
47
North Carolina
1
16
6.3
47
Utah*
1
16
6.3
49
Wyoming*
1
17
5.9
50
Kansas
1
18
5.6
 
Total
245
829
29.6
* Denotes a state holding a U.S. Senate election in 2012. Note: Includes special elections conducted on the general Election Day. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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