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.
1.1 Republican Dominance
As you read the rest of this chapter, keep in mind that the predominant factor "on the ground" in Texas electoral politics today is the surge in the Republican Party's success and whether they can hold onto their gains going forward. In 2002, Republican candidates swept all statewide races and took control of both houses of the Texas Legislature, effectively taking over the institutions of state government. The following year the Legislature revisited the apportionment of districts for the U.S. House of Representatives and effectively set the stage for a final Republican offensive on Texas' representation in that body. The success of that offensive can be seen in the changes in the delegation that are illustrated in the feature The Texas Delegation to the United States House of Representatives 1845-2011.
After a series of battles over redistricting legislation in 2003, Republicans succeeded in passing a bill implementing a congressional district map that promised to level the last institutional stronghold held by Democrats. In 2003 the Democrats still managed to retain a 17-15 advantage in the state's U.S. House delegation, an advantage the new electoral map was designed to undo.
The 2004 election subsequently served as the completion of a long cycle of Republican ascendancy. Texas' presidential electoral votes were all but guaranteed to go to native son George W. Bush. Yet, candidates for the U.S. House fought pitched and expensive battles in the newly redrawn congressional districts - particularly in those districts drawn to put incumbent Democrats on the defensive. By election's end, four Democratic incumbents were defeated, and Republicans held a 21-11 seat advantage. Only two of the six districts targeted by Republicans were retained by Democrats. The Republican advantage in the Texas congressional delegation was maintained in the 2006 election at 19-13. In 2008 Texas seemed to be moving back to a more competitive electoral environment in which the Republicans still enjoyed a majority, but within the context of a much stronger and more competitive Democratic party. In the 2008 election, while Republicans lost some ground in state races, they gained a seat in the Congressional delegation and sent 20 Republicans to Washington, DC in 2009 out of a 32 member delegation. With the decennial census, Texas added four representatives to its House delegation starting in 2013. The Republicans gained one seat in each of the 2010 and 2012 elections, bringing their overall number to 24 of the state's 36 representatives.
The Republicans' hold on government and the Democrats' determination to regain lost ground reveal how far the state has come since the days of Democratic Party hegemony. In 2004, both parties exhorted the faithful to get out the vote through time-honored grassroots organizing on the local and precinct levels, while simultaneously utilizing new technologies and techniques to maximize partisan mobilization. As a direct result, in many parts of the state, turnout soared above historic averages.
1.2 Looking Ahead
As you continue reading, keep in mind that who wins or loses elections usually constitutes the most immediate concern for voters, candidates, and parties alike. But voting and campaigning themselves continue to change, in the role of money, communications technology, political organization, and grassroots efforts.
Republican Party resurgence and Democratic Party decline in Texas over the past two decades have occurred as the art of political campaigning has become more finely honed. The continuing development of traditional media outlets and the appearance and maturation of new media outlets - cable television, the Internet - have created new opportunities and demands for political campaigns. They have also posed new challenges to the notion of popular control and voter choice because of the escalating amounts of money needed to feed the increasingly complex campaign machinery and the ever-more sophisticated techniques of turning out the vote.
But money and technology are only part of the story of the transformation of voting and political campaigning in the state. Shifts in party fortunes have come in the context of structural change in the state. Texas society is undergoing social, cultural, and economic transformations, which parties and candidates cannot even hope to control. Urbanization, growth of Latin and Asian populations, the decline of mining and agriculture, the growth of technology, and the proliferation of autonomous grassroots organizing all contribute to an environment that continually challenges the political status quo.
In short, we are witnessing changes at both the top and bottom of the political system that promise increasing levels of political conflict and continued political change. At the top, increasingly sophisticated campaigning in an intensely competitive, partisan environment has led to ever greater reliance on money - and lots of it - to run successful political campaigns. At the bottom, the democratizing effects of new media like the World Wide Web and email have opened new opportunities for grassroots organizations and insurgent campaigns to participate meaningfully in political campaigning. Additionally, grassroots groups across the political spectrum have become quite sophisticated - almost as sophisticated as the high-dollar campaigns - in organizing and mobilizing their supporters for intense political struggle.
This chapter explores these dynamics by examining the two major components of elections: voting and campaigning. First, we look at voting. We begin by reviewing the formal-legal context of voting and elections. Then we proceed to examine the reality of voting. Here we seek to explain why citizens vote, and why voting is so important. We pay special attention to historical and current barriers to voting in Texas.
We also examine the origins and impact of the two-party system in American and Texas politics, a system often regarded as contributing to low voting rates in the U.S.
After examining voting, we turn to campaigning. First we review the mechanics by which individuals and parties get on the ballot. We continue by examining the logic and limitations of political polling as a tool for understanding voter wishes and packaging candidates and policy proposals.
Finally, we examine the two core elements of campaigning: mobilizing money (i.e., fundraising) and mobilizing voters. Money is no good unless it can be converted into votes. But fundraising is, in a sense, the first contest a candidate must face - long before any votes are cast. Without campaign financing, voters may never get the chance to know that a candidate even exists.
2. Types of Elections in Texas
The state Constitution and the political culture in Texas together have created an electoral system that invites Texans to choose candidates for a great many public offices at all levels of government in the state.
The Constitution requires direct election for numerous state offices in the executive branch and in the judiciary, as well as for a number of county-level offices. Many legislative initiatives require amending the Constitution, which also requires special constitutional amendment elections. Many municipal and other local offices are filled through elections. In addition, some state and local policy proposals must be put before voters in the form of referendums.
These constitutional requirements for broad electoral involvement in government are expressions of a cultural foundation that generally distrusts concentrated authority. The deep seated populist current in Texas political culture - frequently expressed in a general distrust of governmental authority and a preference for frequent and direct consent of the governed (i.e., popular elections) - perpetuates this complicated electoral system, despite concerns that it might not be well suited to a modern, economically dynamic state.
This distrust of strong government ironically sometimes creates even greater barriers to voter participation. Texas residents have elections of some type almost every year, and at multiple different times during the year. During biennial general elections, the great number of offices and referendums results in exceedingly long ballots. Voters, faced with ballots stuffed with candidate names and issues unfamiliar to them, wonder why they should vote.
Before we examine the degree to which long ballots fulfill their intended purposes, this section examines the different types of elections and the process that emerges from them. Generally, there are two stages for all elections in Texas:
- Getting on the Ballot
- Winning public office, approving policy proposals
Although there are only two stages, each one comprises numerous distinct areas of activity, all of which involve considerable effort on the part of activists and voters alike.
2.1 Getting on the Ballot: Primaries, Party Conventions, and Petitions
Normally, when we think about getting on the ballot, we focus on candidates trying to win their party's nomination for a particular office. While this is certainly one of the necessary activities, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Other activities related to getting on the ballot include party conventions and citizen petitions.
A primary election allows members of a political party to choose the party's candidates for an upcoming general election. Candidates who seek to be a nominee of one of the major parties in an upcoming general election must secure that nomination in a primary election.
In the case of minor parties - parties whose gubernatorial candidate received less than 20 percent of the vote in the previous general election - candidates must be selected at a party's nominating convention. Independent and write-in candidates can get on the general election ballot by collecting signatures on a nominating petition.
In order to be listed on the primary ballot for one of the two major parties - Democratic or Republican - a candidate must either collect signatures on a nominating petition or pay a filing fee to the county or state chair of the appropriate party. The number of signatures needed and the cost of the registration fee vary according to the level of office being sought. This chapter's feature entitled Getting on the Primary Ballot lists the various requirements for major party candidates.
The general election allows all registered voters to participate in choosing the occupants of public office from among the candidates of competing parties. To win the nomination in a primary election a candidate must win a clear majority (more than 50 percent) of the votes cast. If no candidate wins a majority - as often happens when more than two candidates run for an office - a runoff election is held between the two candidates that won the most votes.
Two types of primaries are used in the United States: open and closed. Open primaries do not require voters to declare in advance the party with which they wish to be associated. So, any registered voter may vote in any party's primary - but voters can vote in only one party's primary during a single primary period. Closed primaries require advance declaration of partisan affiliation in order to vote in a specific party's primary.
Officially, Texas has closed primaries. But in practice, any registered voter may vote in the primary of any single party, as long as they have not voted in the primary of another party. Texas's primaries are closed in a less direct way: once a registered voter has in effect declared his or her party affiliation by voting for the nominees in a party's primary, that person cannot participate in the proceedings (for instance, a runoff primary or convention) of another party.
Minor parties do not hold primaries. Their candidates for the general election are chosen in county and state conventions. To become the nominee for a particular office for a minor party, one must file an application for nomination with the county or state party chair, as appropriate. The names of nominees who receive a majority of the votes cast at the appropriate county, district, or state convention will be placed on the general election ballot in November of even numbered years.
Minor parties do not all enjoy equal access to the general election ballot. Parties that received at least 5 percent of all votes cast in the previous general election are guaranteed to be listed on the ballot for the subsequent general election. In 2000, only the Libertarian Party was guaranteed a place on the statewide November ballot. For the next general election in 2002, two minor parties that won at least 5 percent of the votes cast in the previous general election - the Libertarian and Green parties - were eligible to have their candidates listed on the general election ballot. From 2004 to 208 only the Libertarian Party, among minor parties, had achieved the minimum 5 percent in the previous election to be guaranteed a place on the ballot. In 2010 the Green party again broke the 5 percent barrier and, along with the Libertarians, earned a place on the 2012 ballot.
Minor parties that are either new or that received less than 5 percent of the vote in the previous general election must collect signatures totaling 1 percent of the vote in the previous general election to get on the ballot for an upcoming general election. In 2008, the petition must contain 74,108 signatures. The number may seem daunting and it clearly takes a massive effort to collect the minimum number of signatures but in 2004 in the race for governor two prominent public figures, Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, were both able to exceed that threshold by a significant margin.
Additionally, independent (non-partisan) candidates can get on the general election ballot by collecting a certain number of signatures on a nominating petition equal to a percentage of the total number of votes cast in the previous general. The percentage required varies depending on the office sought. Independent candidates do not have to pay filing fees.
Finally, anyone wishing to be a write-in candidate must file a declaration of write-in candidacy accompanied either by a filing fee or by a nominating petition signed by a certain number of qualified voters. Both the fee and the number of signatures required depend on the office sought.
2.2 Winning Public Office: General Elections and Special Elections
General elections are held every even-numbered year (every two years) on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In the general election, depending on the year, voters select national and state executive branch officials and legislators, including president and vice-president, U.S. senators and representatives, state governor and other executive branch officials, and state senators and representatives. Voters also choose a number of other state officeholders in the general election. The website of the Secretary of State lists all of the candidates for upcoming general elections.
General elections in which we choose the president and vice-president (every four years, e.g., 2008, 2012, 2016) always have higher voter turnout than so-called off-year elections. In 1974 Texas adopted a constitutional amendment that extended the term of the Governor and other executive branch offices from two to four years. The amendment also set the election calendar so that these offices would be elected in off-year elections between presidential elections: a practice found in a number of other states as well.
While this change shifted elections for state offices to a cycle that historically has lower voter turnout, it partly insulated the election of state-wide offices from presidential campaigning and national politics. In contrast, all of the seats in the Texas House of Representatives and approximately half of the Texas Senate seats come up for election every two years. So some of these races take place at the same time as the higher-turnout presidential elections.
Special elections are held in Texas for one of three reasons. On the state level, they are called to fill mid-term vacancies in the state Legislature or in a Texas seat in the U.S. Congress. They are also called to vote on proposed amendments to the state Constitution. The great detail of the Texas Constitution means that many proposed policies contradict some element or other in the Constitution, thereby requiring formal constitutional amendments to make minor technical changes as well as the major changes commonly associated with the national amendment process. Over time, the accumulation of amendments simply adds complication and multiplies the probabilities of still more conflicts - and still more amendments.
On the local level, special elections are called to select city council members. Most of the cities in Texas select their council members in this way. As a result of both state tradition and local city charters, these elections are non-partisan - the party affiliation of candidates is not indicated beside their names on the ballot. The absence of partisan "cues" makes it more difficult for voters to choose between candidates.
Amendments to the Constitution are voted on in special elections. It is telling that in the special election of 2003 voters were asked to approve no fewer than 22 amendments to the Constitution. Most of these proposed amendments dealt with trifling issues (like whether to authorize municipalities to donate surplus fire-fighting equipment or supplies for the benefit of rural volunteer fire departments) that would best be decided by executive branch officials or even local governments. In 2007 there were 16 proposed amendments, a significant number of amendments to the state's foundational governmental document.
3. Voting Requirements and Voting Patterns
Although as a legal matter it is relatively easy to qualify and register to vote in Texas, the actual pattern of voting in the state suggests significant barriers, and perhaps lack of sufficient incentive, to voting.
3.1 Formal Requirements for Voting
The requirements for voting in Texas are simple and few. First, you must be a citizen of the United States, at least 18 years old, and registered to vote. Also, you must be a resident of Texas for at least thirty days (thirty days is also the length of time before an election by which one must have registered in order to vote - see below).
For elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, state Legislature (House or Senate), and county or municipal government you must be a resident of those districts or jurisdictions for at least thirty days in order to vote in those elections. Additionally, you must not have been declared mentally incompetent and you cannot be a convicted felon whose sentence, probation, or parole has not been completed.
If you meet this short list of requirements, then you need only register to be eligible to vote. In recent years the registration process has been simplified. You merely fill out a small card that is available by request on the Internet and at many locations, including any location where you apply for or renew your driver's license. Once you send in your completed voter registration card, you are eligible to vote in the next election, as long this election is at least thirty days away and you have not changed addresses without reregistering. The Secretary of State's Web site contains a form you can fill out to receive a voter registration form from the county in which you want to register.
3.2 Voting Pattern
These formal requirements - at least eighteen years of age, U.S. citizenship, Texas residency, voter registration, mental competence, and freedom from any felony conviction - tell us little about who actually votes. As we know from both voter turnout data and the flood of public service announcements during election season that urge people to vote, one cannot predict voter turnout from voter eligibility.
A significant percentage of eligible Americans and Texans simply do not register or vote. According to the U.S. Census Bureau only 59.5 percent of U.S. citizens voted in the general elections in November 2000. Notably, only 54.1 percent of Texas citizens voted in that same election, even though the state's very popular governor was running for President. The figures for voter turnout are generally much lower for off-year (i.e., non-presidential) elections, even lower for party primaries, and often dismally low for special elections.
The type and timing of elections are important in understanding voter turnout. But election characteristics interact in complex ways with voter characteristics such as age, income, education, and race or ethnicity to shape patterns of non-voting, as this chapter's Thinking Comparatively feature The Demographics of Voting illustrates. In general, citizens who are older, white, or more educated are more likely to vote than younger, non-white, or less educated citizens.
Data on turnout for the November 2000 national elections collected by the U.S. Bureau of the Census shows that barely more than a third of those between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in November 2000, while almost three-fourths of those between 65 and 74 voted. Also, the census data showed that there was a big difference in voting rates between those with a high school degree and those who went on to earn a college degree.
Differences in reported voting were also evident among racial groups. Whites (non-Hispanic) tended to vote at the highest rate, followed in order by non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian and Pacific Islanders.
This does not mean that characteristics related to age, race, and education in themselves inhibit voting. Instead, it suggests that barriers to voting exist that tend to discourage voting by people in some groups more than others. Explaining patterns of voting and non-voting requires explaining how and why people decide whether to vote.
4. Explaining Voting and Non-Voting
The particular distribution of non-voters only tells us who doesn't vote. The next step is to explain why they don't vote.
For instance, simply getting to the polls on election day may be very difficult for 18-24 year olds because they tend to have lower rates of car ownership. Meanwhile, 65-75 year olds tend to have both cars and the option to vote at any time during the day. Race tends to be reflected in educational opportunities, and education is critical to sorting through all the issues and candidates.
These explanations might seem commonsensical; or perhaps there might be other explanations for why some of groups vote in relatively low numbers. To understand why many of us don't vote, it is necessary to examine the general logic of voting, and then the specific organization of elections in the United States and Texas. This includes looking at three critical areas:
4.1 Small Chance Of Making a Difference; Then Again ...
- probability that your individual vote will make a difference
- so-called "barriers to entry" - such as the cost of acquiring and processing the tons of necessary political information
- effects of the dominance of only two parties in our system
One argument commonly made is that it makes little sense to vote because the odds of you or your neighbor casting the deciding vote in an election are minuscule. According to this argument, the bigger the jurisdiction in which you vote (i.e., the more people voting), the smaller the chances that your one vote will decide the election. In recent state-wide elections in Texas for Governor and U.S. Senate, approximately 4.5 million votes were cast. The chances that the leading candidates would get exactly the same number of votes, out of so many cast, are very small.
Some analysts argue that voters implicitly think this way. They argue that voters calculate that the personal costs they each face - learning about the issues and candidates and then going to the polls to vote - outweigh whatever benefits they each stand to gain from a favorable election outcome. Moreover, the chance that anyone's vote will decide an election outcome is very small.
Yet, in local elections (for, say, school board) the odds of a single vote deciding the outcome go up significantly. The percentage of eligible voters who actually turn out in these elections tends to be very small. Consequently, a small group of like-minded and determined voters (family, friends, and neighbors) may have a greater chance to affect the outcomes of local elections. In a race that should convince even the most jaded voter that his/her vote counts, Democrat Donna Howard managed to keep her seat by defeating the Republican challenger Dan Neil by only 16 votes in 2010.
Even for state-wide contests in the United States, elections can be very close. In Florida - a state whose population is similar in size to that of Texas - the 2000 Presidential election came down to a difference of only 537 votes out of almost 6 million votes cast. Amazingly, another state in the 2000 contest, New Mexico, had similarly close results; the difference in votes for the two major-party candidates was only 366 votes out of almost 600,000 cast.
A very close election further back in Texas history gave one of the state's best known politicians, Lyndon Johnson, a victory that was probably a critical step in his path to the White House. In 1948, Johnson was elected to the Senate after winning the Democratic primary by a scant 87 votes - amid charges of vote fraud. Afterward, opponents and some supporters took to calling him "Landslide Lyndon."
During a appearance in the Texas Politics Speaker Series in 2006, Senator Kip Averitt (R-Waco) engaged his audience in an exercise designed to illustrate the importance of voting.
4.2 Why People Do Vote
Despite the rational expectation that your vote will not turn an election, you may, like many of us, vote anyway, and for various reasons. Some people are proud of the effort they put into being informed and involved. Others vote out of a sense of duty or because of their belief in the value of democratic participation.
Though it takes time and effort to learn the issues as well as the positions and backgrounds of the candidates, this effort may boost your pride and sense of belonging in the community. Just as the pursuit of knowledge in the classroom can expand your horizons, the struggle to understand and shape the politics of the day can profoundly increase your sense of control over the issues that affect you most. Like other citizens, as you become more interested in politics, you become more likely to vote and to participate in other ways.
Many people's decisions to vote are also shaped by a sense of duty or obligation. They - like you - may understand how unlikely it is that each individual vote will make a difference. But they - like you - may also believe that there is something inherently good for the community and for themselves in participating in elections. Standing up and being counted - showing that you care about what happens in the political system - is one of the benefits of voting.
Voters may also recognize a conundrum in the calculation of people who believe that "it's not logical to vote, because my vote probably won't make a difference." In the limit, if everyone decides not to vote because no one believes an election will be close enough to be decided by any one person's vote, then one vote will decide the election. Similarly, if many of those who share your political preferences share also this belief and abstain from voting, the candidates and policies you and they least prefer would likely be victorious. Widespread belief that "my vote won't make a difference" leads logically to circumstances in which one vote may make all the difference.
Finally, many people also vote in the belief that broad and sustained participation is critical for the legitimacy of a democratic system. They recognize that elections would not be democratic without their own and others' participation.
5. Barriers to Voting
The low probability of one or just a few votes actually deciding an election is not the only factor that might discourage potential voters. Two general types of factors that also may discourage voters are information costs and high transaction costs. Below we describe these concepts and identify how these costs have been raised or lowered in Texas history through changes in the rules and regulations governing elections.
5. Barriers to Voting
The low probability of one or just a few votes actually deciding an election is not the only factor that might discourage potential voters. Two general types of factors that also may discourage voters are information costs and high transaction costs. Below we describe these concepts and identify how these costs have been raised or lowered in Texas history through changes in the rules and regulations governing elections.
5.1 Economic and Political Decision-making
Often when we talk about social and political action we employ concepts first developed in the study of economics. Selected economic concepts have been applied to politics because some of the key problems studied in microeconomics involve the same types of individual decision-making that we commonly face in the political marketplace. Our decisions about whether and how to enter the economic marketplace and our assessments of the prices and quality of the things we, as consumers, might choose to buy resemble our decisions about political participation and vote choice.
In this vein, consider the following questions that often come up when we discuss voting:
- How difficult is it to vote?
- What are the costs?
- What procedures and qualifications need to be complied with to vote?
- How difficult is it to collect information on the issues, candidates, and parties?
- How difficult is it to know which candidate, or party, most closely reflects a particular policy or ideological orientation?
- How will a vote for an individual candidate affect policy outcomes?
Answers to such questions that we obtain by applying economic concepts to politics rest on an analogy between the political arena and a market for goods and services. Candidates and parties are like sellers offering products. Voters are like consumers trying to sort through a large amount of biased (and incomplete) market data in order to purchase a product (a candidate or policy) or a "basket" of products (several candidates, policies, or a party).
Like any analogy, the application of economic concepts to political behavior can be imprecise. But the basic decision-making process that individuals face in the political world is close enough that researchers and practitioners have profitably used some economic concepts to sort through the factors affecting voters' decisions.
5.2 Information and Transaction Costs
As mentioned previously, there are two general types of costs associated with voting: information costs and transaction costs. According to the microeconomic approach to understanding voting behavior, all specific barriers to voting (legal, structural, or other) can be understood in these terms.
Information costs are the costs of acquiring and processing information - in this case, political information necessary for or useful in voting and other forms of political participation. What constitutes political information or voting information? Political information can range from the simplest facts about voting procedures to arcane knowledge about politics, policy, and candidates.
For example, the simplest and most fundamental pieces of knowledge required in voting include knowing how and when to register to vote, where your local polling place is located, and the dates of elections. You could not cast a vote without this information: a fact that illustrates how voter registration imposes a cost on citizens.
Citizens need to know that they must register and how to do so, and then they need to do it in order to vote. This may sound so basic as to exaggerate the impact of voter registration and voting location information. However, voter registration and the state-level rules that regulate the process have long been recognized as a barrier to voting by the courts as well as by advocates seeking to make it easier to vote. 
Voter registration requirements used to be much more stringent than they are now - and consequently represented a greater obstacle to voting. Until the 1970s Texas required voters to register every year by January 31. If a potential voter forgot to register by this date, he or she could not vote when election day rolled around. Current law in Texas requires voters to register no less than thirty days before the election in which one wishes to vote. Once registered, voters remain registered as long as they remain qualified. A voter who changes residence, however, is required to re-register at the new address. Current voter registration requirements in Texas are similar to those in many other states, although a few states have even less stringent requirements.
Criticism that voter registration depresses turnout led to passage of a national "motor-voter registration" law in 1993 requiring states to provide uniform registration services through drivers' license agencies, through public assistance and disability agencies, and through mail-in registration.
Skeptics of the argument that registration posed a significant barrier to voting point out that the passage of "motor voter" did not lead to dramatic increases in voter turnout as a result of the reduction in the costs associated with registration. But debate continues.
Other critics point to the compromises necessary to get the bill through Congress that watered down the bill's effectiveness. Many proponents of the legislation initially advocated automatic voter registration when a citizen received a driver's license or state ID card. The final bill only required making registration forms available at licensing agencies, among other, less automatic options.
In addition to basic information on registration and voting procedures, citizens need meaningful information on the issues of the day and on the competing candidates. This information is much more difficult to acquire and process. Furthermore, the associated costs are higher in Texas than in many other states because so many executive and judicial branch offices are elective. Each office on the ballot adds one more race requiring additional information - if voters are to make informed decisions.
To win voters to their causes, various interest and community groups assemble voter guides summarizing issues as well as background on political candidates. Many groups - from police associations to environmental advocates to abortion opponents - endorse candidates as a way of saying, "We give our seal of approval to this candidate." Some interest groups even evaluate candidates according to a grading system. Such aids are intended to drive down the cost of information and, in some cases, to spur advocates to become more interested and more likely to vote. But again, with so many candidates on the ballot in a typical Texas election, sometimes the voter guides, scorecards, report cards, and fliers only add to the noise and confusion that swamp voters.
Despite the efforts of various groups and organizations to reduce the cost of electoral information, the very length of the campaign season also increases costs for voters. In Texas, primaries for the major parties are held in March, more than seven months before the general election. The long campaign season is usually filled with seemingly interminable television advertising but only superficial discussion of the issues. The net effect is to dull the senses of the electorate, while providing only negligible insight into the issues and candidates.
In addition to a burden of information costs, the economic analogy also implies that voters face transaction costs - the costs of making a transaction in the marketplace. Even simple economic transactions involve additional costs that may not be obvious. A trip to the convenience store to buy a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread involves not just the cost of the item you need to buy, but time, possibly gasoline, and a share of the annual insurance cost for your car.
For a single trip to the grocery store, such costs are negligible. But they still exist, and we often factor them into our decision making for small transactions consciously or not. For other transactions the costs are both more numerous and higher. Buying a car, for example, involves substantial sales taxes, title and registration fees, insurance, and inspection fees (in addition to time and travel associated with looking at possible vehicles to purchase).
Voting also can impose numerous and substantial transaction costs. As with all transactions, voters must spend time that could be used for other productive or leisure activities. In the United States the time many Americans spend voting is longer than it could be, because we rely primarily on single-day, mid-week elections.
Traditionally, most working people vote as soon as the polls open in the morning or after work; such voting patterns make the polling locations quite busy at these hours, and thereby raise the cost of the voting "transaction." In Texas, these transaction costs (e.g., time spent waiting in line, the frustration of contending with crowds) are exacerbated by the fact that polls close at 7:00 p.m. There is little time after the end of the work day to vote. A Texas employee must be allowed time to vote - time off paid for by his or her employer - unless the employee has two consecutive, non-working hours during polling hours. The law has been understood as giving the employer the right to specify the hours that an employee may take to vote. Nevertheless, employers must pay the normal employee wages for the time taken.
Complaints about short polling hours and mid-week elections finally resulted in the relaxation of voting laws. Since 1987, Texas has offered two types of early voting: in person and by mail (this second type is sometimes referred to as absentee voting). Voting early in person does not require any special circumstances, additional paperwork, or procedures. Voters simply choose an early voting location convenient to them. These are located in busy public places like malls, supermarkets, colleges, and universities.
Early voting begins seventeen days before and ends four days before election day in most elections. To vote early by mail, you must be either out of the county during the early voting period and on Election Day - or age 65 or older, sick, disabled, or confined to jail. Simply call the elections administrator in charge of the particular election and request that an application for a ballot by mail be sent to you. Since the expansion of early voting, increasing numbers of Texans have taken advantage of this lower cost voting option. In 2008 - with an historic national presidential race underway and several hotly contested legislative races - many Texas counties experienced record levels of early voting. The 15 largest counties in the state had over 40% of voters cast their ballots early.
Early voting may reduce the transaction costs associated with waiting in line on election day or having to take time off work. Nevertheless, voting also involves out-of-pocket expenses for things like transportation (e.g., gasoline, bus fare, parking), and even hiring a baby-sitter.
Lastly, those who merely register to vote bear a less obvious cost. In many jurisdictions in the U.S., lists for jury duty are taken directly from voter registration rolls. Hence, if you register to vote you may be summoned for jury duty. In Texas, this "cost" of participating in elections is probably not much of a barrier to voting. Few people realize the connection between voter registration and jury service. More importantly, names of potential jurors in Texas are drawn from a combined list that includes current registered voters as well as all licensed Texas drivers and citizens holding Department of Public Safety identification cards.
With this chapter's Thinking Comparatively feature which examines the frequency of reasons people in Texas and nationwide give for not voting, you can assess what kinds of costs non-voters seem to be avoiding.
5.3 Historical Barriers to Voting
Texas shares with many other states - especially with former Confederate states - a history of systematic disenfranchisement of blacks, Latinos, and poor whites.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, many former Confederate states (and some others as well) instituted new restrictions on voting in order to disenfranchise former slaves. In response, Congress passed and the states ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution which became known as the Civil War Amendments to counteract efforts by southern elites and their allies to reestablish political rule by disenfranchising black voters - thereby denying them representation in government.
The 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment (1868) and 15th Amendment (1870) to the U.S. Constitution were passed to guarantee, respectively, the "privileges and immunities" and the right to vote of all U.S. citizens.
With the end of the Reconstruction in the 1870s, the nation politically abandoned uniform enforcement of the Civil War amendments. With reduced federal enforcement of the rights protected by the amendments, many southern states enacted Jim Crow laws designed to restrict or prevent African American voter participation. Unlike other states, Texas never legislated two of these tools: literacy test and the grandfather clause. Instead, Texas suppressed black voting using poll taxes and the white primary.
Poll taxes added a direct out-of-pocket transaction cost to voting by charging money to vote. Texas adopted a poll tax in 1902. It required that otherwise eligible voters pay between $1.50 and $1.75 to register to vote - a lot of money at the time, and a big barrier to the working classes and poor. Poll taxes, which disproportionately affected African Americans and Mexican Americans, were finally abolished for national elections by the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1964. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, ruled that poll taxes in state elections were unconstitutional.
The white primary in Texas treated the Democratic Party as a private club whose membership could be restricted to citizens of Anglo heritage. It originated as a change in Democratic Party practice early in the twentieth century as a way to disenfranchise African Americans, and later in south Texas, Mexican Americans. In 1923 the white primary became state law. After numerous legal challenges to successive versions of the law the Legislature had passed to preserve the practice, the U.S. Supreme Court finally and decisively prohibited the white primary in the 1944 case Smith vs. Allwright.
This chapter's feature Turnout in U.S. Presidential and Midterm Elections illustrates voter turnout since 1840 and clearly shows suppression of the vote in Texas and the South during the period between Reconstruction and the civil rights movement.
6. The Two-party System and Low Voter Turnout
The dynamics of the two-party system also contribute to low voter turnout. With typically only two contestants for most offices in a general election, the candidates tend to converge to the middle of the political spectrum on the issues being discussed. To distinguish themselves in such races where policy differences may be few or unclear, candidates often resort to personal attacks. Many citizens, unable to perceive differences between candidates on the main issues of the day, elect not to vote.
Also, if one of the two candidates appears to be dominating the race, many people do not vote because they feel that their vote will not make a difference in the outcome of the election.
The two-party system has been a fixture in Texas politics, even during periods when third parties have attempted to change the political landscape. The following sections look at the development of the two-party system as a deeply entrenched feature of the political framework in the United States and Texas, and at its consequences for voting and elections in Texas.
6.1 Development of the Two-party System
Political scientists and historians usually focus on a few key elements of Texas's legal-institutional framework, political culture, and political history to explain the development of the two-party system in American and Texas politics.
The core institutional element used to explain the endurance of the two-party system is single-member district representation. Most political offices in the U.S. and Texas (e.g., President, congressman, Governor, state legislator) represent single-member districts - meaning that only one individual running for that office will win, even if there are several attractive candidates and parties. Over time, parties whose candidates consistently lose will either merge with stronger parties or die away.
A single-member district system of representation is most commonly compared to a proportional representation system where parties fill a slate of offices based on the proportion of the total vote each party receives in a district, state, province, or country. In such a system, even parties that win only a few percent of the total vote can gain seats in representative bodies. In these systems, the chief executive - the prime minister - is chosen from the majority party or from a coalition of parties that constitutes a majority.
In a system of proportional representation, even a minor party can win at least some seats. Since votes for a minor party are not perceived as "wasted," some parties are willing to take positions outside the ideological middle - offering meaningful choices to voters who may prefer something other than the middle of the road. Some jurisdictions in Texas and the U.S. have experimented with proportional voting or other alternatives to the single-member district system with plurality voting, as discussed in this chapter's Rules Matter feature on Cumulative Voting in Texas. Most historians and political scientists agree, nevertheless, that widespread change in the single-member district system in Texas and the U.S. is unlikely.
The institutional and legal foundation of elections is not the only factor that explains the enduring nature of the two-party system in the U.S. and Texas. Some scholars have emphasized what seem to be qualities unique to political culture in the United States - which, together, are often called American exceptionalism. Observers of American political culture argue that the United States is characterized by an unusually strong and unusually deeply rooted popular commitment to liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, and free markets. While other countries may be building long term records of democratic politics, these scholars claim, their political cultures are less individualistic and less deeply committed to both political and economic liberty.
American exceptionalism is often linked to the two-party system because the consensus on core political convictions in the United States limits demand for alternative political ideologies and political parties to represent them. Without a strong tradition of more collectivist political ideologies, the U.S. has never had significant constituencies for a broader range of political parties. Instead, such interpretations suggest, the political spectrum in the United States is limited to two parties that differ more in matters of degree and emphasis or personalities, than in fundamental values.
Texas fits the overall pattern of American exceptionalism, perhaps even more so than the U.S., political culture in Texas is marked by a particularly strong strain of individualism and a strong tradition of pro-business sentiment. Within a country exceptionally committed to a public ethic of classical liberalism, Texas is perhaps still more exceptional.
Although answers to the question "why two parties?" typically emphasize either institutional or ideological factors, both factors work together to produce the two-party system. The rules governing elections and representation keep the two-party system in place. The relatively narrow ideological spectrum tends to limit the demand for changes in those rules, even as the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties enables their adherents to defeat or co-opt proponents of significant changes.
6.2 The Two-party System and Voter
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.
7. Political Campaigns
The rest of the chapter covers three elements of campaigning: fundraising, polling, and mobilizing of voter support through endorsements, advertising, and public appearances.
Since the 1950s, politics in the U.S. has undergone a long-run transformation from labor-intensive campaigning (based on people and mass organizations), to capital-intensive campaigning (based on technology and mass communications). The electoral system evolved in the twentieth century with the development of mass media, and it continues to evolve in sometimes surprising directions. Now more than ever, candidates, parties, and interest groups rely on new techniques and technology for political campaigning, in the endless quest for an edge over opponents.
Electoral campaigns in Texas have become increasingly expensive over the past two decades. Changes in campaign technology, national politics, and the state's economic development have together maintained upward pressure on campaign budgets. This chapter's feature Major Party Congressional and Texas Legislative Fundraising conveys how much money state and national legislative candidates now raise to run for office.
Despite the extent to which technological advances have changed the face of campaigning, good old-fashioned campaigning still plays a major role. Campaigns have events to draw attention to their candidates; candidates stand in front of crowds and give speeches (albeit in the hope of reaching not just the audience in attendance, but the news media, too); and campaigns do what they can to throw their opponents off balance or to piggy back on the coverage of others. (For an example of a campaign event and attempts by opponents to get their own coverage, see the slide show of images in the feature box on the right side of this page.)
Lawmakers have attempted, both on the national and state levels, to regulate campaign contributions. But these efforts tend to be of limited effectiveness. The laws are generally lenient. Regulatory enforcement is weak (whether by the Federal Election Commission in federal elections or by the Texas Ethics Commission in state elections). And parties, campaigns, and donors have found ways to circumvent regulations. The following sections look at some of the causes of rising campaign costs, at the regulation of campaign financing and spending, and at the impact of money on elections in Texas.
7.1 Causes of Rising Campaign Costs
The increasing costs of electoral campaigns reflect some general national trends and some characteristics specific to Texas. The principal elements driving these increases in cost are technological change and increased competition between the parties.
Candidates' expanding us of media in their campaigns is a perpetual source of rising costs. Television advertising has become a significant cost, even in state legislative and local races. This chapter's feature Costs of Campaign Media in Major Texas Markets, 2004 provides some examples of the high price of both television and newspaper advertising.
Elections have become more expensive as the techniques and technology of modern campaigning have gotten more sophisticated. New media such as web sites and other Internet-based methods have increased already rising costs. The Internet has provided a two-way channel for campaigns to mobilize loyalists and new recruits alike, and to acquire information about the attitudes, habits, and location of consumer-voters.
While the initial costs of starting your own Web site or sending e-mail are very low, integrating these tools into a professionally run, well organized campaign can be expensive. New media have added new costs (e.g., hosting services, webmasters, sound and video specialists, writers, managers, analysts) even as the costs of established media (e.g., television ad production, ad rates) have also risen. For additional discussion of how groups use media in politics, see the section on media campaigns in the Interest Groups chapter of Texas Politics.
Technological change also adds costs in the form of the mundane but substantial equipment needs that campaigns must meet. Computer hardware and software, personal digital assistants, cell phones and land lines, copiers, fax machines, televisions, and the other machinery needed to operate any modern enterprise have raised campaign costs. So has increased use of both well-known and little-known tools of modern campaigning such as voter databases, direct mail, preference polling, statistical analysis, focus groups, advertising spots, media consultants, image consultants, phone-banks, candidate websites, and e-mail.
As recent elections have illustrated, these technology-focused methods of campaigning have not replaced traditional labor-intensive political methods. Campaigns, particularly at the state and local level, still depend on face-to-face campaign methods - attending public events and meetings, going door to door to meet voters, and other methods based on face-to-face contact. But campaigns increasingly combine these traditional political methods with modern, capital intensive technology. Employing new technology-driven methods costs money, and lots of it.
Despite the costs, technology often spurs political creativity. Though many have promoted the political potential of the Internet since its inception, only recently has digital technology led to new, relatively low-cost political tools that have found wide use at all levels of the political system. In Texas during the 2004 election, for example, candidates from outside the state used the Internet to reach across the length and breadth of Texas to find contributors and activists to work on national campaigns. This was especially evident during the 2004 primary season in the Democratic Party. Similarly, independent organizations, most notably Moveon.org, injected themselves into election politics, though mostly by siding with major party candidates for office.
The 2004 campaign season also saw increasingly widespread use of e-mail by state legislative and judicial candidates to mobilize and organize supporters. The mainstream media was also joined by a new type of information source, bloggers, who commonly fused writing and reporting about politics and elections with advocacy for candidates and parties.
In the last decade, bloggers and other Internet-based independent purveyors of information and activism have become a normal part of of the market for political information market. Their rise illustrates the tendency of rapid technological change to generate unexpected innovations that are incorporated into political competition. This became evident as Twitter and other so-called microblogging services became central tools of political insiders, reporters, and activists.
Despite claims that the Internet would radically change politics, wholesale transformations have yet to appear. Instead of the Internet "changing everything," Internet technology has typically been grafted onto existing campaign strategies and tactics. We have yet to see a transformative political movement or candidate emerge straight from cyberspace.
Whether or not technology has fundamentally changed institutional practcies, as technology costs have risen, more competition between the parties in Texas has also meant more money pouring into pitched efforts to win elections. As the Republican Party has broken the Democratic Party's historic hold on the South, both parties have fought increasingly intense campaigns with ever-larger financial war chests. As party fortunes have shifted, so too has each party's share of money changed, as discussed in the Texas Politics feature on Money and votes in Texas.
7.2 Regulating Contributions
Campaign financing for elections in Texas is regulated by two authorities. The Federal Election Commission regulates campaign financing in federal elections (contests for seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as well as the President). The Texas Ethics Commission enforces state regulations - which are generally much less stringent than federal regulations - for all state races. This chapter's feature Federal and Texas Campaign Contribution Limits summarizes federal and state limits.
Modern campaign finance regulation in the United States began with the adoption of the 1972 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). This act, which consolidated all existing legislation adopted since Theodore Roosevelt first proposed campaign finance legislation in 1905, was important because it drew regulatory focus to the issue of big money in elections. It was quite limited, however. It merely imposed reporting requirements on political campaign contributions, and it provided no administrative apparatus for enforcement.
In response to reports of financial abuses during the 1972 presidential campaign, Congress strengthened the FECA in 1974. It set limits on campaign contributions from individuals, political parties, and political action committees (PACs). To enforce these limits and the original law's reporting requirements, the 1974 amendment created an independent agency, the Federal Election Commission (FEC). In addition to enforcing reporting requirements and contribution limits, the FEC was charged with administering the program that provides public funding of presidential elections (made possible by a check box on individual income tax returns that originally allocated one tax dollar - today three dollars - to the presidential election campaign fund). The FECA law also prohibited contributions directly from corporations or labor unions, as well as from foreign nationals. A similar ban on corporate and union contributions to state candidates is also in place in Texas. However, the state does allow corporate and labor contributions to political organizations for costs not directly related to campaigning (such as administrative expenses).
Paralleling the national reform effort, Texas took tentative steps toward campaign finance reform in response to state scandal in the early 1970s. In response to the 1972 Sharpstown bank scandal (involving bribery of state legislators in pursuit of banking legislation), the state legislature passed the Campaign Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1973. As the name indicates, this law was primarily oriented toward reporting. Unlike federal legislation, the Texas law did not limit the actual amount of contributions.
Limited though they were, the 1973 reforms instituted modern campaign finance regulation in Texas. The law altered practices related to the administration of campaign finance, but did not significantly alter the flow of money into state politics. New requirements specified that
- every candidate and political committee in Texas must appoint a campaign treasurer before accepting contributions or incurring expenditures
- candidates and campaign committees must file financial reports which include all contributions and expenditures over $50
- out-of-state committees may make contributions in excess of $500, but only if individual contributors of $100 or more are reported
Even though the Texas law specified criminal and civil penalties for violators, it provided no means for enforcement. Consequently, reporting of campaign contributions was uneven - and unverified - at best.
It took another scandal almost two decades later for campaign finance reform to be taken up again in Texas. The 1991 ethics scandal involving five-term Speaker of the Texas House Gib Lewis led to legislation creating the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC). In creating the Ethics Commission, the 1991 law created means of enforcing the reporting requirements specified in the 1973 law.
Under the 1991 law, lobbyists and legislators are required to file reports with the TEC several times each year. These reports are posted on the TEC website and can be searched by contributor and legislator. The 1991 legislation also expanded reporting requirements for lobbyists and legislators, and banned honoraria (payments for speaking at a group's meeting, luncheon or banquet) and pleasure trips paid by lobbyists, unless a legislator participates in the proceedings of a meeting. Notably, the 1991 ethics law did not impose limits on campaign contributions.
The TEC is empowered to hear complaints of ethics violations but has been roundly criticized as passive in the face of the free flow of money in Texas politics. As one editorial critical of the TEC put it, "born deliberately hobbled, 10 years later ... it's a halfway decent clearinghouse for records, but it has been a dismal failure as an enforcer of campaign laws."  Watchdog groups and political campaigns have used the reporting requirements enforced by the TEC to shed light on donors and campaign financing practices. But the Commission has done very little to actively investigate complaints or take action against alleged violations. One dissatisfied observer summed up critics' opinions, suggesting at a 2002 rally on the Capitol steps that the Commission "stinks." Another critic at the rally, also included in the video clip, more coolly and helpfully summarized the legislative mandate of the TEC.
The combination of ambiguity in and lax enforcement of Texas campaign finance laws seems to provide fertile soil for periodic scandal. One recent example of such scandal is the investigation of contributions made through the Texas Association of Business (TAB) and Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) during the 2002 election cycle - investigations that generated a spate of criminal indictments in 2004. Because most citizens knew or cared little about the details of these investigations, Democrats and Republicans in the 2004 campaigns were able to accuse each other of either engaging in unlawful activity or playing politics with the law.
The complexity of the TAB case has also required extensive and time-consuming inquiries, the results of which were still not clear in November 2005, more than three years after the elections under investigation. Nonetheless, two things about the investigation are clear. First, Texas laws regulating campaign contributions and spending are difficult to interpret and enforce. Second, investigations by the Travis County district attorney's office - not the Texas Ethics Commission - led to grand jury hearings and charges against contributors and political operatives - a fact that underlines the passivity built into the TEC.
The 78th Legislature (2003-2004) revisited ethics legislation, but it only slightly modified the Texas Ethics Commission and the laws regulating contributions in the state. The 79th and 80th legislatures made a number of changes changes to laws under the jurisdiction of the Texas Ethics Commission. But, many of these involved small changes to reporting requirements, and did not make the state's ethics laws more stringent. Indeed, the 79th Legislature actually eased somewhat the restrictions on campaign contributions and lobbying.
7.3 Extent and Impact of Money in Elections
So, how big can campaign contributions get? If groups of all types contribute money, isn't the system one of balanced, pluralist competition? Even if contributions of one group aren't offset by those of another group, won't corrupt public officials be exposed and ultimately thrown out by voters?
The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the total amount of money raised in 2001 (and reported by August 2, 2002) by all candidates for the U.S. Senate was almost $225 million. For the same period (and reporting cutoff) candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives raised over $400 million. Between the two chambers of Congress, a total of $630 million had been reported by mid-summer 2002. Texas, with its large congressional delegation, has been the site of extensive fundraising by candidates, political action committees, interest groups, and political parties. The tab labeled "Political Advantage" in this chapter's feature Money and Votes in Texas provides overall campaign contribution amounts in congressional races in recent elections in Texas.
State races have also become increasingly expensive at all levels of the political system. The 2002 race for governor set a new benchmark for spending, as the candidates spent $92.2 million - a figure propelled skyward by the $66.3 million Democratic candidate Tony Sanchez personally spent on his unsuccessful campaign (see the tab "The Governors' Take" in the table referenced above). In a move unusual for a modern Democratic candidate, Sanchez contributed much of this money from his own personal fortune. Spending fell significantly in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, despite the fact that two well-known independents joined the race. The seven candidates for governor raised $42,493,800. Despite the lower levels in 2006, the amount of money raised and spent for just the gubernatorial race is considerable.
Assessing the impact of money on elections is notoriously difficult and subject to debate. Candidates and defenders of prevailing campaign finance rules tend to suggest that pluralism largely prevents candidates from being bought and sold. But at the very least, the sums of weakly regulated money that flow into campaigns and through the lobby mean that ethical questions will swirl perpetually around campaign contributions and campaign finances will be an ever-present issue in political races.
Defenders of the current guidelines argue that violations are exceptions to the rule in a system that allows interests to pursue their political goals by exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to petition government and engage in free speech.
Skeptics of the current system who doubt the ability of the legislature to change it believe that, as one speaker at a 2002 ethics reform rally on the steps of the state Capital put it, legislative efforts "stink." Critics point to the continuing flow of money - both directly to candidates and parties and indirectly through lobbyists - as evidence that the system is inherently corrupt. The very legislators charged with reform, critics argue, are the ones most dependent on the current system.
Yet the evidence critics of the system point to most frequently - the sums of money spent on political contributions - does not in itself stand as evidence of corruption, and certainly not of illegality, given current Texas law and long-standing links between money and politics in the state. Legislators insist that they are not improperly swayed by contributions. Contributors argue that as long as they follow the law, they are exercising their constitutional right to petition government and express themselves. Lobbyists defend themselves as advocates for interests that deserve - and can afford - effective representation.
In the absence of major scandal to galvinize the public or of sustained pressure for campaign finance reform from political parties, public officials, influential interest groups, or even from the voting public, the legislature will continue to make only minor periodic adjustments in existing campaign finance regulations.
8. Polling and Campaigns
Politicians, campaign contributors, news outlets, and the public all have come to rely on public opinion research (political polling) to guide them through the complex and shifting terrain of electoral contests. Polls have become such an expected component of modern political campaigns that often they are given greater consideration than they merit.
As a result of this widespread reliance on polls, surveys of public opinion can alter perceptions of the viability of a specific candidate or campaign. They also influence what issue positions candidates adopt, how candidates state their positions, and who candidates target (i.e., segments of the population such as minorities, whites, women, or suburbanites). The fact that polls are couched in the scientific language of "random samples" and "margins of error" only adds to their credibility among voters, campaign donors, and candidates who may have little or no understanding of how these concepts should be used when interpreting polling data.
News organizations, pollsters, parties, and political campaigns publish poll results to feed news coverage, talk shows, and blogs starved for political news during the long campaign "season," which in Texas starts months before the March primaries in even numbered years. Cable talk shows in particular increasingly resort to "instant polls," fluffy features that allow viewers to register their opinions on the Internet as they watch television. These "polls" merely survey the opinions of those program viewers who have an Internet connection and who care enough to make the effort to respond online. News anchors and talk show hosts recite that the results are "not scientific," but they encourage viewer participation and they share the inevitably biased results at the end of the show, anyway.
The presentation of poll results as news and the use of instant Internet polls both point to the curious status polls have gained. They have become important sources of useful political knowledge for the public. But how voters use polls remains unclear. One theory, the "bandwagon effect," suggests that voters may incorporate polls into their assessments of a candidate's chance of winning an election and that undecided voters are likely to cast their votes for the candidate they think is a likely winner.
However voters may use polls, the ubiquity of poll results requires citizens to develop basic skills in interpreting them. Concern over the misuse and misinterpretation of polls has led universities and other public interest groups to develop and distribute easy-to-use guidelines for interpreting polls. One of the best and most accessible guides to understanding and interpreting polls is the Roper Center's Polling 101, which explains how polls are conducted and what consumers of political information should be on the lookout for when interpreting polls.
In 2008, the Texas Politics Project initiated a statewide political survey, the results of which are made publicly available in the Polling chapterof this website. In 2010, the Texas Politics Project formed a partnership with The Texas Tribune to share in the analysis and distribution of a series of surveys of self-reported registered voters in Texas.
9. Mobilization and Campaigns
Because of the costs attached to voting, candidates need to accomplish two distinct tasks. First, they must motivate citizens to turn out and vote. Candidates receive help with this task from media outlets that carry public service messages urging people to vote and from civic participation campaigns like "Rock the Vote" or 2004's "Vote or Die" and "Redeem the Vote" campaigns.
Candidates must also inspire voters with selected information to support them and not their opponents. Candidates may receive help in this from various sources, including parties, interest groups, and other actors in the political system, but candidates bear the primary responsibility for organizing their own efforts to gather enough votes to win.
Put simply, candidates and their campaigns with the help of parties and interest groups attempt to mobilize voters. The following sections briefly survey some of the tactics candidates and campaign professionals use to build support among voters - soliciting and publicizing endorsements, mounting an advertising campaign, and staging events such as rallies and meetings.
The endorsements candidates seek can range from signs in citizens' yards supporting a candidate or policy proposal to declarations of support issued by major professional, business, and labor organizations. Campaigns use endorsements to communicate to the public that a candidate or policy is worthy of support because individuals and groups with good reputations say so. More specifically, endorsements imply that if you like or respect a specific neighbor or organization, then you ought to support a specific candidate or policy.
For example, the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez ran a television ad that showed footage of Republican President George W. Bush and cited a letter from the popular former governor referring to Sanchez as a "great Texan." Sanchez was in effect saying: if you support President Bush, surely you would do well to support me. Of course, the Republicans strongly protested the ad, saying that it incorrectly implied that President Bush supported Sanchez for governor over fellow Republican Rick Perry.
An endorsement from a professional, trade, or industry group often carries with it additional campaign resources. These endorsements hold the promise of the votes of the membership, campaign contributions from the endorsing organization or its members, and perhaps the contribution of time and labor by members. The same holds true even for a yard or window sign: home and business owners communicate their support for a candidate or policy, and they deliver their own votes and, perhaps, campaign contributions.
Advertising has always been a critical component of campaigning. But the practice of commercial marketing and the development of mass media have given new insight and discipline to political advertising. Advertising in politics, as in business, can be as simple as letting people know that a candidate or policy choice exists, just as soft drink commercials seek to develop "brand recognition" without making specific claims. Or political advertising can offer a more complex and detailed rationale for supporting a candidate or policy.
Simple name recognition is critical and may be decisive in local or "down-ballot" races. People are unlikely to vote for a candidate whose name they don't know. Candidates in local races and even in races for seats in the Texas Legislature usually do not receive the news coverage given gubernatorial and Congressional candidates. This problem also arises between elections, when coverage of statewide or national officials tends to crowd out coverage of state legislators, judges, and local officials. During campaigns, citizens usually follow only a few races at a time - the bother of following more than a few races increases quickly. Consequently, just getting people to recognize your name is the first and main challenge of many down-ballot candidates.
Advertising can involve both traditional and new media, including signs and billboards, print advertisements, direct mail, Web sites and e-mail, and radio and television spots. Usually, signs and billboards achieve only general name recognition, while other media theoretically allow presentation of a candidate's background or a policy's expected effects. Direct mail and candidate websites are particularly good for presenting more detailed information in a setting where the major constraint is how much time a citizen cares to spend reading.
Candidate Web sites have become standard features even of local races. Web sites often provide detailed policy positions, lists of endorsements, and candidate backgrounds - serving as clearinghouses of information about candidates. Web sites predominantly attract people who are already supporters, or at least leaning in the direction of the candidate whose Web site they are visiting.  Consequently, a candidate's site generally tries to reinforce the visitor's support, not to convert the already converted by disparaging the opposition. But in close races, negative campaigning is likely to reach Web sites, too.
The broadcast media are so expensive that candidates often attempt only simple positive name recognition (usually with a tag line like "Experience you can trust") or the most superficial treatment of their public policy positions. To win votes, many candidates are lured into negative advertising and even mudslinging. After all, it is much easier and quicker - and often more effective - to condemn your opponent as crooked, dishonest, or ineffectual than to offer detailed arguments about why you are the better candidate.
Campaign professionals usually produce different types of television "spots" to accomplish different purposes. Biography or "bio" ads introduce a candidate to voters, and are typically used early in a campaign. Contrast ads draw distinctions in policy or ideology by providing information about both candidates - with an eye, of course, to supporting the candidate producing the ad. Attack ads feature negative information about an opponent.
Candidates also pursue the same goals for which they advertise through non-media based events and activities like attending backyard barbecues, visiting citizens groups, and hosting community meetings. Any activities that give citizens a chance to see and relate to a candidate, and to understand something about that candidate, are critical to a campaign's advertising effort. There are tradeoffs, of course. A candidate can only attend so many barbecues, kiss so many babies, and meet so many people. Such "retail" campaigning must be combined with "wholesale" techniques like giving interviews with the news media and maintaining Web sites that can reach thousands, not mere tens or even hundreds, of voters.
9.3 Political Events and Public Speeches
Public events like rallies and speeches are also a critical component of a modern campaign, but their function has morphed since the days when James "Pa" Ferguson's captivating personality and rhetorical flair wowed crowds on the campaign trail.
At least since the advent of television as a campaign tool in the 1950s - a development that, in Texas, coincided with the start of rapid urbanization and economic diversification - candidates have sought more technologically intensive and efficient ways of reaching large numbers of voters.
It used to be that political rallies and public speeches were the only ways that voters could see candidates and hear their voices. Newspapers might carry a photo and use quotes from a speech or an interview. But these were of limited circulation and many voters could not afford the cost of a newspaper, or were not able or inclined to read it. So direct, unmediated contact with voters in public forums where candidates orated and debated was a central campaign activity of old-time politics. It also gave candidates and their campaigns the opportunity to learn about and discuss local concerns.
Today campaigns can use mass communications media and sophisticated techniques for identifying and tracking voters (through telephone based survey research, exit polls on election day, and now monitoring visitor traffic on candidates' Web site). Events like political rallies and public speeches are just one way to reach voters. Other techniques central to a modern multi-pronged publicity campaign offer cheaper, less time-consuming, more efficient ways to reach voters.
But political rallies and speeches continue to be a staple of campaigns. Campaigns design such events to earn media coverage, not just to reach the audience in attendance. Efforts to generate media coverage with such events have spawned a terminology of their own, as the Talking Politics feature on the terms "free media" versus "earned media" examines. For campaign strategists, the target audience is not only - or even primarily - those in attendance, but the much larger television audience which sees only short excerpts on the state and local news.
The use of public appearances for the purpose of garnering television coverage has become a staple of statewide campaigns in Texas. Candidates seek local and regional news coverage by traveling around the state. Such uses of public appearances were already well established by 2002 when Governor Rick Perry geared up for reelection, as former Perry chief of staff Barry McBee discussed in an interview prior to that election. Presidential campaigns also use this tactic. For example, in the final weeks of the 2004 presidential elections, both candidates hopped from town to town in six or seven key states.
Encounters between candidates and the public are no longer spontaneous interactions. They are no longer designed to help a candidate understand the problems and concerns of particular individuals or groups. Instead, they tend to be carefully staged and scripted events - often attended by an equally carefully selected audience - designed to reinforce the images campaigns are trying to promote.
9.4 Grassroots Rallies and Marches
The previous discussion focuses on candidate-centered and other well-funded campaigning. But citizens themselves can organize, seek endorsements, advertise, and hold meetings and marches to promote or oppose amendments to the Texas Constitution, local level referenda, or even specific candidates or causes.
To maximize their impact grassroots organizers try to carefully stage and script their own events, just as well-funded, candidate-centered campaigns do. The dynamics of organizing such events are discussed in the Texas Politics section on public demonstrations by interest groups.
Many of the tools and techniques used by well-funded campaigns are appropriated by grassroots organizers, though with smaller budgets on a smaller scale. The key difference usually is that grassroots organizations can rarely afford the closed and controlled environments that well-funded campaigns use for their events. Hotels, ballrooms, meeting rooms, convention centers, and private estates are less likely to be sites of grassroots events.
Another key difference is that well-funded campaigns generate credibility through the sheer power of finances. So, they have far less difficulty getting the media to cover their events, if media attention is what a group seeks. In contrast, grassroots groups often seek creative ways to both attract media attention and pump up the attendance of supporters.
The ideals of democracy often collide with the realities of voting and elections. While elections are the most familiar and symbolically potent feature of democracy, they are also the focal point of conflicts between apathy and engagement; between an impartial principle of broad participation and the often overriding influence of money; between the human faces of elections and the masks of technology and mass communication at all levels of electoral competition.
Elections epitomize the capital-intensive nature of the political system in Texas and the U.S. today, even as familiar traces of old style politics remain. As the 2004 election illustrated, campaigns retain a labor-intensive element that will never completely disappear. As election day neared, large numbers of volunteers and paid campaign workers spend long hours going door-to-door, working phone banks, helping voters get to the polls, planting signs, and making last ditch appeals at neighborhood polling places. Though the tools have become more modern, the basic need to mobilize and organize voter support has changed little since the advent of mass democracy in the early nineteenth century. These efforts still reappear on a significant scale on election day.
But if the core activities so evident on election day seem familiar from the heyday of labor-intensive politics, the evolution of communication technology and the nature of the political system have fundamentally changed the campaigning that both precedes and envelops the final, laborious push to get voters to the polls. Voters make their decisions about whether to vote, and for whom, in the midst of a vast, highly technical, and cash-hungry system of professional campaigning. Average voters engaging in small scale politics - handing out fliers, talking to their neighbors and family members, knocking on doors, setting up little Web pages using their personal accounts - persist. But these efforts take place within a larger network of activities.
We live on a different planet than the world of nineteenth-century political mobilization, the ghost of which briefly reappears every campaign season. New techniques and technology have made campaigns irreversibly capital-intensive. In the war to win elections, successful candidates deploy polls, automated calls, 30-second "spots," media consultants, image consultants, speech writers, and statistical voter turnout models.
Even a close look at the ground troops engaging in time-honored campaign activities like knocking on doors and driving voters to the polls reveals the intrusion of money and technology. Block walkers and van drivers go armed with lists of voters generated by sophisticated software operated by highly paid consultants. Voters may go to the polls armed with personal digital assistants, laptops, or cell phones. Phone bank volunteers deliver expertly crafted messages to carefully selected targets. And of course, amidst all this election day labor, campaigns air last minute ads non-stop on cable and broadcast TV.
Watchdog groups have not hesitated in their efforts to keep pace, incorporating some of the same techniques and technology - especially the Internet, traditional publishing, and broadcast communications - to publicize the size and nature of campaign contributions and to raise questions about the dilemmas posed by our system of financing and organizing electoral campaigns.
Meanwhile, campaign finance laws in Texas have achieved little in recent years beyond instituting reporting requirements and making information more available to those who know where to find it on the Internet. In a political culture that emphasizes laissez-faire approaches in politics as much as in business, and in which business interests are seen as important constituents of a part-time legislature, there has been little legislative interest in staunching the flow of money into politics.
Grassroots organizations have mounted efforts with some success to change the laws regulating campaign contributions, or to counteract the advantages enjoyed by powerful interests. And close elections may still be won by the superior "ground game" effort, as we heard repeatedly in the run-up to and the debriefing after the 2004 election. But the preservation of a style of politics built around active individual participation and the incorporation of interested, motivated voters will require constant accommodation to the presence of money and mass media - and the role of ever more sophisticated technology, which both seem to guarantee. Political campaigning continues to incorporate new individuals and groups, but it requires them to adapt to the ever increasing capital-intensiveness of contemporary politics.