North Dakota, the Roughrider State, was admitted to the union in 1889. The state has participated in 32 presidential elections in its history and has voted Republican in 26 of them. The state is currently thought to be an almost guaranteed win for Republicans in presidential elections. In the last five presidential elections, North Dakota has voted for a Republican each time, with the highest margin in 2016, when President Donald Trump won by approximately 36 percentage points.
North Dakota has had only one, at-large congressional district since 1973. The delegation began the 21st century in the 106th Congress with Democrat Earl Pomeroy as its representative. Democrats held the seat until Republican Rick Berg won it by an almost 10 percent margin in the 2010 election. Republicans have held the seat since, with Kelly Armstrong currently representing North Dakota in the U.S. House.
Democrats held both of North Dakota’s Senate seats from 1987 until 2011, after Republican John Hoeven won an open-seat race against Democratic candidate Tracy Potter by 76.2 percent to 22.2 percent. The delegation was split from 2012 through 2019, with Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp winning in 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by retiring Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. In 2019, Republican Kevin Cramer bested Heitkamp, winning 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent. Senator Heitkamp won key cities in the state such as Fargo and Grand Forks, but Cramer carried the majority of the state’s rural counties.
This loss solidified an already dominant Republican control over the North Dakotan delegation.
The trend in North Dakota’s recent congressional elections threatens to shift the state from being competitive to reliably Republican, commensurate with declining rural support for Democrats.
North Dakota’s recent state elections, including the last gubernatorial and lieutenant governor elections, have also followed this trend. In 2016, Republican Doug Burgum defeated Democrat Marvin Nelson 76.7 percent to 19.4 percent to become the Governor of North Dakota. On Burgum’s ticket was Republican Brent Sanford, who is currently the lieutenant governor.
Overwhelming Republican support in North Dakota is reflective of the state’s urban-rural makeup. North Dakota has 53 counties – 39 of them are considered to be “completely rural” and 3 are considered to be “mostly rural.” 755,393 people live in the state, and in 2017, 49.6 percent of the state’s residents lived in a rural area. North Dakota is the 19th largest state in the country but is thinly populated comparatively. The state currently ranks 47th in terms of population. Democrats find success in the state’s populous cities, like Fargo at a population of 122,359 and Grand Forks, while Republicans thrive in the rural central and western parts of the state.
No Democrat has carried North Dakota in recent presidential elections. In 2008, former President Obama came the closest to carrying the state but still lost to Senator John McCain 44.7 percent to 53.3 percent. In 2012, President Obama was even less successful in gaining the support of these voters, losing the contest by 20 points, 38.9 percent to 58.7 percent, to Republican Mitt Romney.
In the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump won the state by a landslide, 63 percent to 27.2 percent against Hillary Clinton. This year, North Dakota was the state with the most dramatic increase in Republican support. It was predicted that President Trump would win the state, as Mitt Romney won it in 2012 by a total of 19.8 percentage points. Instead, Hillary Clinton won only two counties across the state.