That doesn’t mean Tuesday’s election will not make the history books. Expected wins for Republicans in both the Arkansas House and Senate will give Republicans control of every legislative chamber in the South. Democrats have controlled state politics in Arkansas for more than 130 years.
Steady Republican gains since the days when Bill Clinton was president helped move the numbers away from Democrats, plus recent redistricting efforts have favored more sparsely populated parts of the state, where something as simple as a familiar name can prove decisive.
“The districts in Arkansas are still relatively small and rural, which isn’t like all states, so candidates can run on their own name and not necessarily run on a party label,” says Storey of NCSL.
More broadly, Republicans are expected to maintain control of a majority of state legislative chambers. A major factor is the remapping of district boundaries that took place in 2010. Typically, the majority party is tasked with the redistricting, which, more often than not, helps the party in power preserve its gains during the next 10 years.
“There’s no question that partisans use the redistricting process to their advantage in the short term, but also for the next decade, so that outcomes will be more favorable to them,” says Sundeep Iyer, an analyst at the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank in New York City.