In volatile New Hampshire, Republicans retook the legislature even though Biden won most districts

In volatile New Hampshire, Republicans retook the legislature even though Biden won most districts

Daily Kos Elections is pleased to present the first installment in our project to calculate the results of the 2020 presidential election for the nation’s 6,766 legislative districts, starting with the perennial swing state of New Hampshire. Last fall, both the state Senate and state House changed hands in the Granite State, making them the only legislative chambers in the country to flip sides in November. They also offer an important lesson: Despite the record levels of political polarization in this country, the outcome at the top of the ticket is not necessarily destiny further down the ballot.

That’s vividly illustrated in New Hampshire’s gigantic 400-member House, which Republicans recaptured in 2020 with a 213-187 majority. Just two years earlier, Democrats had retaken the House from Republicans during the 2018 blue wave, winning 233 seats to the GOP’s 167. Last year’s results, therefore, represented a 92-seat swing in favor of Republicans, a remarkable result given that Joe Biden carried the state by a comfortable 53-45 spread.

Thanks to that 8-point margin, Biden won districts representing 232 seats in the House, while Donald Trump carried just 168. (New Hampshire uses a combination of single-member and multi-member districts that elect as many as 11 representatives, with 204 districts in total.) Yet in the face of this headwind, fully 50 Republicans chalked up wins in Biden seats while just five Democrats prevailed in Trump seats.

In the current era, it’s exceedingly rare to see one party control a legislative body despite the other party’s presidential candidate winning a majority of seats. One explanation for this unusual result likely involves Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who secured a third two-year term in November in a 64-34 landslide over Democrat Dan Feltes.

En route to that victory, Sununu won an extraordinary 366 seats in the House to just 34 for his opponent. As a consequence, fully 153 Democrats sit in seats Sununu carried, more than 80% of the caucus; unsurprisingly, no Republicans occupy any Feltes turf.

Take a look at Hillsborough 19, for instance, a multi-member district that elected one Democrat and one Republican: At 80-18 Sununu, this was the governor’s best district in the state—and yet it still also went for Biden 56-42, meaning the two candidates were divided by a startling 76 points. On the flip side, the closest district as between Biden and Sununu, the single-member, Democratic-held Cheshire 03, still saw them separated by a wide gulf: Biden won it 52-47, while Sununu prevailed 60-39, a spread of 26 points.

In all, nearly half of all House seats—198 in total—split their tickets for Biden and Sununu, electing 148 Democrats and 50 Republicans. And 168 seats went for Trump and Sununu, with all but five electing Republicans, while all 34 Biden/Feltes seats backed Democrats, as alluded above.

The story was very similar in the Senate, which at just 24 members is one of the nation’s smallest (the House, by contrast, is double the size of the next-largest lower chamber). There, Republicans reversed the 14-10 majority Democrats won in 2018 and took 14-10 majority of their own. Biden carried 16 districts and Trump just eight, but Republican senators won six Biden districts. Sununu’s performance was just as dominant, with victories in 22 seats.

Political observers have known for a long time that New Hampshire’s electorate is uncommonly elastic, and this new data only underscores that well-earned reputation. But what happened here was not unique. We saw it in last year’s congressional elections, too, where Biden ran ahead of two-thirds of Democratic candidates in races contested by both parties—and we’ll see it over and over as we bring you more legislative results from more states.

What precisely this foretells for elections this year and next is, of course, difficult to say, especially because redistricting will scramble the lines almost everywhere. But whether running on new maps or old, down-ticket Democrats will always want to bear in mind that just because a district backed Joe Biden doesn’t mean it will do the same for them.

P.S. We’ll be publishing data for new states on a rolling basis. To keep up with each release, subscribe to our free daily newsletter, the Morning Digest. You can find links to our district-level spreadsheets for New Hampshire and every other state at this bookmarkable permalink.

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