UT Wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
Texas Politics - Texas Political Culture
party system
progressive tax
2.2    Political Culture and Texas Political History

The history of Texas politics also is, in part, the story of how the various strands of Texas political culture have been combined to form periods of stability, as well as jarring, discordant moments of deep seated tension, rupture, and sharp change. The enduring low taxes, low services consensus runs through the story.

For a century after Reconstruction, the Democratic Party enjoyed electoral dominance on all levels of state government and in the Lone Star State's representation in the national government. Democratic rule was dominated by a conservative white political elite that strongly promoted economic development, but that resisted change either in race relations or social programs for the poor. Tensions within the party over these issues were effectively muted until the civil rights movement and mounting tensions in national politics finally erupted into state politics in the 1950s.

Republicans were not completely absent during this period, but their electoral victories were few and limited in scope. Their most common successes were at the presidential level, where Texas supported Republican candidates in 1952, 1956, 1972, and in every election after 1980 as Republican strength grew.

The history of the Texas party system reflects the political heritage of the rest of the old South, including secession from the Union, racial segregation and nationally mandated desegregation, the mobilization of conservative Christians, and continuing immigration of people from the northern states. But the party system is also shaped by other equally important currents more commonly shared with other states in the Southwest rather than the old South. Specifically, the strong Spanish and Mexican traditions going back to colonial times, and the long term influence of Mexican culture have influenced the state in profound ways.

The size of the state, its unique history, and the resulting political and cultural variety of Texas society have all contributed to the development of what might be called a "pragmatic center." Scratch the surface of this pragmatism, and one is likely to find that what is "practical" is a relatively conservative, pro-business set of policy preferences, periodically affected around the edges by mobilized groups without the power to remain influential over long periods of time (such as third parties). The resulting political culture has been reflected in a party system that has consistently rewarded pragmatism, compromise, and deal making over ideological purity.

Key characteristics of the political and policy climate in Texas after the civil rights movement reflect this pragmatism and the relative strength of conservatives in both parties. These enduring characteristics include:

  • a comparatively low level of state services maintained by a general hostility toward progressive taxation (particularly any form of income tax)

  • a generally anti-union work environment

  • limited environmental regulation

  • culturally conservative social policy in areas such as education, religion, and civil rights

These characteristics of politics in Texas have deep historical roots, originally established back in the days of Texas' independence and even earlier during the Spanish colonial experience. The societal consensus on these points has been challenged and modified to some extent during various periods in Texas history, but never substantially overturned. As a result, these tendencies continue to exert a strong influence through to the present.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 116
prev next