While institutionally and ideologically two parties dominate our political system, the two-party system seems to have weakened or dissolved the connections many citizens feel to one party or the other. Over the past decades, the number of political independents in the Texas electorate rose dramatically, leveling off at about 30 percent of the electorate since 1990. While the two-party system has endured, party identification among voters has weakened - as the Texas Politics chart Party identification in Texas in Texas illustrates. (Note the growth in independent voters.)
Further evidence of the general decline in party identification among the electorate is provided by the growth in split-ticket voting: voting for some Democrats and some Republicans (or members of other parties) on the same ballot. Although statistical data is difficult to come by, election results suggest that Texans routinely vote for candidates of different parties.
For example, in the 2000 general election Texans voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush for President (59 percent to 38 percent for Al Gore), as well as for Republican Kay Bailey Hutchinson for Senate (65 percent to 34 percent for her Democratic challenger). Nevertheless, Texans still filled seventeen of thirty seats in the U.S. House of Representatives (57 percent) with Democrats. The prevalence of such split-ticket voting - despite the fact that the Texas ballot provides the option at the top for voting a straight-ticket - suggests that parties have lost some of their relevance to voting decisions. Things shifted more decidedly in the Republican direction in 2004 when 61 percent of Texan's voted for George W. Bush for president, while only 38 percent voted for John Kerry. Meanwhile, Texans filled 11 of their 32 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives with Democrats. These congressional results more closely mirrored the presidential results.
Other forms of citizen participation mitigate declining voting and the weakening of party identification among the electorate. Nevertheless, because voting in public elections is the cornerstone of our democracy, the current trends concern many observers of the political system. Some of this concern was allayed when widespread interest in the 2004 election increased voter turnout, but the fundamental issues of relatively low voter turnout and weak party affiliation remain.