As each election for public office nears, the mass media reminds us that elections are both highly-charged symbolic rituals of democracy and key procedural components of our political institutions. Both aspects of elections - symbolic and procedural - serve critical functions at all levels of our political system.
Given the importance of elections, it's not surprising that they are also a major focus of collective fretting and extensive analysis and commentary. Why don't more people vote? Why do they vote the way they do? Why are campaigns so expensive and so negative? Why is the media so obsessed with polls?
In Texas, concerns about voting and elections are colored by political changes in recent decades (discussed at length in the Texas Politics chapter on Political Parties). Texans display many of the same basic tendencies of voting and non-voting as other Americans. The contests and characters on display in the 2008 campaign provided ample illustration of the particular forces at work in the Texas electoral universe. The Republican Party remains dominant after a decade that saw battles over congressional redistricting, intense and sometimes bitter campaigning among candidates both within and between the parties, increasingly expensive campaigning up and down the ballot, and the continuing courtship of the growing Latino population, to name just the most prominent factors.
Nationally the election of Barack Obama and of a Democratic US House and Senate in 2008, and Obama's reelection in 2012, suggested growing Democratic power at the national level. Texas, however, bucked national trends and voted in for Republicans John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. The state also sent delegations to Congress with large Republican majorities.
While a large Democratic majority was forming around Barack Obama, Texas continued to be dominated by the Republican Party. The 2010 election began with unprecedented turnout in the Republican primary, generated by interest in the high visibility race between two prominent Republicans -- Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison -- and a surprisingly successful insurgent candidate, Debra Medina. Perry won 51% in the primary vote in an election that attracted over 1.4 million voters on the Republican side. Bill White emerged from a much more one-sided contest to earn the Democratic nomination in the gubernatorial contest.
In the 2010 general election, Perry defeated White by a large margin, and in the process raised his national profile, leading to a brief, unsuccessful effort in 2011 to gain the Republican presidential nomination in the 2012 election. Governor Perry subsequently announced in 2103 that he would not see reelection in 2014, setting the stage for the first gubernatorial election without an incumbent candidate since 1990 - and expectations of another presidential run by Governor Perry in 2016.
In the video in the box on the side of this page, three leading political journalists in the state -- Erica Grieder of Texas Monthly, Harvey Kronberg of The Quorum Report, and Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune -- gathered at UT-Austin in November, 2013 to discuss the 2014 campaigns, which were just unfolding at the time, with James Henson, Director of the Texas Politics Project at UT.
The features on the same side of the page present very early polling results for some of the races in the 2014 and 2016 elections. These results are drawn from the October 2013 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll, and thus reflect the attitudes of Texans long before most of them had started paying attention to, or thinking much about, the campaigns. As such, they should be taken as a very early indication of where the candidates stood, in most cases, prior to the start of the public phases of the campaign.