Political Parties in Texas
Political Parties in Texas
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Describe the history and trends of Texas’ major political parties
Political parties are organized at three diﬀerent levels: national, state, and local.
National consists of the quadrennial national convention, the party’s national chairpersons, and the party’s national committee. Next is the state, which consists of state central committees and state conventions, and congressional district committees. Lastly, there is the local level of organizations, which include city and county committees, precinct and ward committees, party activists and volunteers, and party identifiers and voters. Recent trends between the three levels are that they tend to overlap, and more often then not, state and local parties have more influence than the national party around their region, and their decisions tend to override those of the national party.
Major Political Parties in Texas
As of September 9, 2019, the state of Texas oﬃcially recognized four political parties. These are listed in the table below.
In order to be recognized by the state, a political party must fulfill certain requirements, which are detailed here: Ballot access requirements for political parties in Texas.
Democratic Party of Texas
Green Party of Texas
Libertarian Party of Texas
Republican Party of Texas
Table 9.1 Oﬃcial Political Parties in Texas
In some states, a candidate may choose to have a label other than that of an oﬃcially recognized party appear alongside his or her name on the ballot. Such labels are called political party designations. A political party designation would be used when a candidate qualifies as an independent but prefers to use a diﬀerent label. Texas does not allow candidates to identify in this way. A total of 25 states allow candidates to use political party designations in non- presidential elections.
The Cultural Background of Political Parties in Texas
The 19th-century culture of Texas was heavily influenced by the plantation culture of the Old South, dependent on African-American slave labor, as well as the patron system once prevalent (and still somewhat present) in northern Mexico and South Texas. In these societies, the government’s primary role was seen as being the preservation of social order. Solving of individual problems in society was seen as a local problem with the expectation that the individual with wealth should resolve his or her own issues.
Historical Dominance of the Democratic Party
From 1848 until Richard M. Nixon’s victory in 1972, Texas voted for the Democrat candidate for president in every election except 1928, when it did not support Catholic Al Smith. A full century of Democratic Governors stretched between the departure of Republican Governor E.J. Davis (1874) and the election of Republican William P. Clements (1979). The state had a white majority and Democrats re-established their dominance after the Civil War. In the mid-20th century 1952 and 1956 elections, the state voters joined the landslide for Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Texas did not vote in 1864 and 1868 due to the Civil War and Reconstruction).
In the post-Civil War era, two of the most important Republican figures in Texas were African Americans George T. Ruby and Norris Wright Cuney. Ruby was a black community organizer, director in the federal Freedmen’s Bureau, and leader of the Galveston Union League. His protégé Cuney was a mulatto whose wealthy, white planter father freed him and his siblings before the Civil War and arranged for his education in Pennsylvania. Cuney returned and settled in Galveston, where he became active in the Union League and the Republican party; he rose to the leadership of the party. He became influential in Galveston and Texas politics, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential black leaders in the South during the 19th century.
From 1902 through 1965, the Democrat-dominated legislature in Texas had virtually disenfranchised most blacks and many Latinos and poor whites through the imposition of the poll tax and white primaries. Voter turnout in Texas declined dramatically following these disenfranchisement measures, and Southern voting turnout was far below the national average. The Solid South exercised tremendous power in Congress, and Democrats gained important
committee chairmanships by seniority. They gained federal funding for infrastructure projects in their states and the region, as well as support for numerous military bases, as two examples of how they brought federal investment to the state and region.
Although blacks made up 20 percent of the state population at the turn of the century, they were essentially excluded from formal politics. Republican support in Texas had been based almost exclusively in the free black communities, particularly in Galveston, and in the so-called “German counties” – the rural Texas Hill Country inhabited by German immigrants and their descendants, who had opposed slavery in the antebellum period. The German counties continued to run Republican candidates. Harry M. Wurzbach was elected from the 14th district from 1920 to 1926, contesting and finally winning the election of 1928, and being re-elected in 1930.
Some of the most important American political figures of the 20th century, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice-President John Nance Garner, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, and Senator Ralph Yarborough were Texas Democrats. But, the Texas Democrats were rarely united, being divided into conservative, moderate and liberal factions that vied with one another for power.
Some analysts suggest that the rebirth of the Republican Party in Texas among white conservatives can be traced to 1952, when Democrat Governor Allan Shivers clashed with the Truman Administration over the federal claim on the Tidelands, oﬀshore lands claimed by both Texas and the national government which were believed to contain oil.
Shivers led a movement often known as the Shivercrat movement, which forecast a dramatic change in party alignments a quarter-century later. He worked to help Texas native General Dwight D. Eisenhower to carry the state. Eisenhower was generally highly respected due to his role as Commander of the Allies in World War II and was popular nationally, winning the election. Beginning in the late 1960s, Republican strength increased in Texas, particularly among residents of the expanding “country club suburbs” around Dallas and Houston. The election to Congress of Republicans such as John Tower (who had shifted from the Democrat Party) and George H. W. Bush in 1961 and 1966, respectively, reflected this trend.
Nationally, outside of the South, Democrats supported the civil rights movement and achieved important passage of federal legislation in the mid-1960s. In the South, however, Democrat leaders had opposed changes to bring about black voting or desegregated schools and public facilities and in many places exercised resistance. Following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, southern white Democrats began to leave the party and join the Republicans, a movement accelerated after the next year, when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, providing for federal enforcement of minorities’ constitutional right to vote. Voter registration and turnout increased among blacks and Latinos in Texas and other states.
Unlike the rest of the South, however, Texas voters were never especially supportive of the various third-party candidacies of Southern Democrats. It was the only state in the former Confederacy to back Democrat Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election. During the 1980s, a number of conservative Democrats defected to the GOP, including Senator Phil Gramm, Congressman Kent Hance, and GOP Governor Rick Perry, who was a Democrat during his time as a state lawmaker.
John Tower’s 1961 election to the U.S. Senate made him the first statewide GOP oﬃceholder since Reconstruction and the disenfranchisement of black Republicans. Republican Governor Bill Clements and Senator Phil Gramm (also a former Democrat) were elected after him. Republicans became increasingly dominant in national elections in white-majority Texas. The last Democrat presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Previously, a Democrat had to win Texas to win the White House, but in the 1992 election, Bill Clinton won the Oval Oﬃce while losing Texas electoral votes. This result significantly reduced the power of Texas Democrats at the national level, as party leaders believed the state had become unwinnable.
As of June 2017, Democrats were the minority party in the state legislature, did not hold any statewide elected offices, and occupied 11 of the state's 36 congressional seats.
After the 2018 election cycle, Republicans retained trifecta control of Texas state government; The Republican Party gained the state government trifecta in 2003. Republicans control all statewide Texas offices, both houses of the state legislature and have a majority in the Texas congressional delegation. This makes Texas one of the most Republican states in the U.S.
When one party controls the three vital centers of state political power—the oﬃce of the governor, the state House, and the state Senate — that party controls a trifecta. Trifectas make it easier for the dominant party to pursue its agenda, and more diﬃcult for opposition parties to challenge it.
There are currently 36 trifectas: 22 Republican trifectas and 14 Democratic trifectas. Texas is one of the 22 state governments under Republican control.
Despite overall Republican dominance, Austin, the state capital, is primarily Democrat, as are El Paso, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. However, the suburbs of these cities remain heavily Republican.
What Does the Future Hold?
The Hispanic population has continued to increase, based on both natural increase and continued immigration from Mexico. As of 2011, the Hispanic population accounted for 38.1% of the state’s population (compared to 44.8% for non-Hispanic whites).
The state’s changing demographics may result in a change in its overall political alignment, as most Hispanic and Latino voters support the Democrat Party.
Analysts with Gallup suggest that low turnout among Texas Hispanics is all that enables continued Republican dominance. In addition to the descendants of the state’s former slave population, the African American population in Texas is also
increasing due to the New Great Migration; the majority supporting the Democrat party.
In 2018, Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke lost his Senate bid to the incumbent Ted Cruz by about 200,000 votes; a significant gain for Democrats in the state. O'Rourke's performance in the 2018 Senate race has challenged the notion of Republican dominance in Texas, with analysts predicting greater gains for the Democrats going into the 2020s.
References and Further Reading
Texas Secretary of State. Candidate Information. Accessed September 9, 2019.
Texas Secretary of State. 2014 Independent Candidates.
Texas Election Code. Title 9, Section 142.009.
Hales, Douglas (2003). A Southern Family in White & Black: The Cuneys of Texas. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 1-58544-200-3.
Democratic Party of Texas. Ballotpedia. Accessed September 21, 2019.
2010 Federal Census of Texas. Quick Facts.
Dugan, Andrew (2014). Texan Hispanics Tilt Democratic, but State Likely to Stay Red. Gallup. Rosenburg, Eli (2018, November 7). In Texas, Beto O’Rourke loses the race for Senate but still makes a mark. Washington Post. Accessed September 21, 2019.
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