Heading into the 2022 election, one big question was just how many voters would be willing to vote for one party’s candidate for U.S. Senate and the opposing party’s candidate for governor. We’ve known for a while that this voting behavior, known as “split-ticket” voting, has been on the decline in U.S. elections, thanks to forces such as polarization and negative partisanship that influence voters to consistently back one party. But while FiveThirtyEight’s forecast projected a further downtick in split-ticket voting this year, we didn’t know just how things would play out from state to state.
With most results in now, we can safely say that split-ticket voting decreased in 2022 — for the most part. And yet, the few voters who did split their tickets mattered a lot for the outcomes in many states, especially where one party won the Senate race and the other party won the governorship.
Overall, we were able to look at 25 pairs of Senate and gubernatorial elections in 24 of the 26 states with such pairs on the ballot in 2022.1 Of those, five states elected senators and governors from different parties, with one more — Georgia — possibly joining them, depending on the outcome of a Dec. 6 runoff election. A few states saw sizable differences, especially deep-blue Vermont, where popular Republican Gov. Phil Scott won reelection by a whopping 47 percentage points, while in the Senate contest, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch won by a massive 40 points. But Vermont’s 87-point spread was a clear outlier: Only eight of the other 24 pairs of races had double-digit differences, including three of the five pairings that saw candidates from different parties elected. Broadly speaking, there wasn’t that much variation in many states, as the median difference was 7.8 points, found in New York, which ranked as the smallest in any midterm dating back to 1990.
Still, split-ticket voters wielded significant power — even if they weren’t sizable in number — especially in three closely fought states. Most striking was Nevada, where Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto won reelection by only about 1 point while Republican Joe Lombardo bested Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak by a little over 1 point at the same time. Similarly, the handful of Wisconsin voters who backed both Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers helped both win narrow reelection victories. And while Georgia’s Senate race is headed for a runoff, that happened partly because a small group of voters who backed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp also voted for Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in the latter’s race against Republican Herschel Walker. That kept Walker below 50 percent and gave Warnock about a 1-point edge, although he too fell short of a majority.
Now, a few states besides Vermont had fairly sizable differences that highlighted how the parties split the two races — or at the very least how one race was far more competitive than the other. New Hampshire reelected Republican Gov. Chris Sununu by 15 points while simultaneously giving Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan another six-year term by 9 points. In Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly overcame the state’s strong GOP lean to win reelection by about 2 points even as Republican Sen. Jerry Moran handily won by 23 points. And while candidates from the same party won both races in Hawaii, Ohio and Oregon, each state saw a comfortable win for an incumbent in one contest while the open-seat election for the other office was much more competitive. That these incumbents would win more easily isn’t terribly surprising, as they tend to gain at least some advantage from already holding office.
All in all, though, the results in these Senate and gubernatorial contests suggest that split-ticket voting has continued to decline. The median difference of about 8 points proved to be a new low in Senate-governor results in midterm elections from 1990 to 2022, as the chart below shows:
Still, even with the diminished rate of split-ticket voting, about a quarter of the Senate-governor pairs we looked at had split-ticket outcomes. That share was roughly in line with midterms dating back to 2010, when between about 1-in-6 and 1-in-4 states saw different parties win their Senate and governor contests. In other words, split-ticket voting isn’t so rare — at least today, anyway — that the actual governing outcomes of these votes produce no split results.
However, it’s not hard to imagine us moving further in that direction in the years to come. In 2020, just one state (Maine) voted for different parties for president and Senate, while no state in 2016 produced a split-ticket result in those two races. It’s true that midterms may remain more inclined to lead to split-ticket outcomes between top-tier races like governor and Senate because elections for governor still aren’t as nationalized as races for federal office. That has led some voters to back a party they don’t normally support in elections for a state’s chief executive. But even then, we’re seeing increasingly nationalized gubernatorial elections, which could further reduce the rate of split-ticket voting in midterm years, too.