Women, the poor, and minorities historically have enjoyed only low levels of political participation and representation in government relative to their numbers in the population. Although these groups have made great progress in being heard and putting their own in office over the past three decades, they still face significant obstacles caused by the relative lack of economic resources (wealth and income), lower education levels, and for immigrants, language barriers. Many women face the additional challenge of fulfilling traditional responsibilities as primary caregivers to their children, while trying to manage professional careers, whether in politics or in other fields.
To be sure, prejudice and discrimination still play a role in limiting opportunities for political participation for women, the poor and minorities. But the progress these groups have made in opening the political system up to broader segments of the population - in securing seats in the legislature, in the judiciary, and in the executive branch - illustrates one of the ways in which political culture can be dynamic. In 1965 there were no African Americans, 9 Latinos, and 2 women among the 181 members (counting both House and Senate) of the Texas legislature. By 2003, those numbers had risen to 16, 37, and 36 percent, respectively.
Today, women participate in various forms of political action at roughly equal or higher rates than men.  But, as we've just noted, their representation in government does not come even close to matching their majority status (compared to men) in the population. In a Texas Politics video feature, former governor Ann Richards and current state legislator Geanie Morrison discuss the gains in representation that women have won in Texas government and the remaining challenges to further advancement. Both note that the culture has come to accept women in government in ways that were difficult to imagine just two generations ago. But both also note, in different ways, that the culture's emphasis on women as the primary caregiver to children poses additional obstacles. Additionally, for Richards in particular, our culture still has a long way to go before women (and minorities) achieve the level of acceptance and representation that their numbers in the population deserve.
In Texas, participation rates and political representation for women and minorities began to grow markedly in the 1970s after the passage of the national Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But more than three decades after these historic pieces of national legislation went into effect, the political inclusion of minorities - and to a lesser extent women - remains a work in progress. A series of Texas Politics features help illustrate these imbalances. The data in the Thinking Comparatively feature The Demographics of Voting shows that non-Hispanic whites voted at the highest rates (although at an unimpressive 58.8 percent) among all racial and ethnic groups in Texas in the 2000 presidential election. Notably, not far behind were Blacks at 58.6 percent, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders (51.0 percent) and Hispanics (41.0 percent).
More dramatic still is the relationship between family income and voter turnout depicted in this feature. Only 42.5 percent of voting age members of families in Texas earning less than $25,000 per year voted in the 2000 presidential election. The turnout figures rose steadily with income. On the upper end of the income spectrum, 74.6 percent of voting age members of families in Texas earning over $75,000 voted in the 2000 election. These turnout figures roughly parallel national turnout figures, but are generally quite a bit lower than the national figures for each income level (except for the highest category of families earning above $75,000).
In terms of representation in public office, the disparities are even wider. African Americans occupied just 1.7% of all elected offices in Texas in 2000, far below their numbers in the population. Although Latinos generally have fared better, their 7.1 percent of all elective offices in Texas in 2003 also falls far short of their numbers in the population, and even constitutes a reversal of the progress they had made in filling public offices from the 1970s well into the 1990s.
These trends are also visible, but to a less extreme degree, in the Texas Legislature. African Americans and Latinos occupied 8.8 and 20.4 percent of all seats, respectively, in the 2001-2002 biennium. Women are also underrepresented in the state legislature, where they occupied approximately 20 percent of all seats in 2003-2004 biennium, despite accounting for more than half of the population. As with other elected offices, African Americans, Latinos, and women have all made substantial gains in winning state legislative seats in recent years, but their numbers still do not match their share of the population at large.
In part the low participation (and representation) rates of minorities and the poor are correlated with educational attainment, which is compounded for many immigrants by limited ability to speak English. The Demographics of Voting feature shows that in the 2000 presidential election Texas residents whose highest educational attainment was graduation from high school voted at a 30 percent lower rate than Texans with a four-year college degree (46.6 percent versus 76.4 percent, respectively). Meanwhile only about one-third of Texans who did not finish high school voted in the 2000 election.
Processing all the information required to participate meaningfully in elections is even more difficult if you don't speak English very well. U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that among the six million people in Texas who speak a language other than English at home, 2.67 million (or 13.9 percent of the entire state population) speak English "less than very well." 
Education and language ability form only part of the explanation for low participation, however. Another important factor is that the political system in the state generally does not open much space for the poor and immigrants. In part, this is because the dominant ideology tends to place the responsibility for access on the individual, not on the institutions or governmental processes. Over time the political institutions tend to reinforce patterns of political behavior (e.g., non-voting by the poor), which in turn reinforce existing habits and ways of thinking about politics.
Immigrant and first-generation American populations also tend to be much younger than the non-immigrant population, meaning that many immigrants or first-generation Americans are not old enough to participate in the formal-legal democratic processes like voting or running for public office. This is a critical point that suggests the potential for big changes in these groups' political impact as they become more established in society and begin to flex more political strength. It is for this reason that both Republicans and Democrats in the state are keen to cultivate loyalty - a sense of strong party identification among immigrants and minorities.
4 U.S. Census Bureau, link: "Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2002"; link: "Reported Voting and Registration of the Total Voting-Age Population, by Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin, for States: November 2002."
5 U.S. Census Bureau, link: "Profile of Selected Social Characteristics: 2000."