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Table of Contents


Political Socialization

Public Opinion

The Media

Voting Behavior

Interest Groups

Political Parties

Campaigns and Elections









Political Socialization


Political socialization is the process by which people acquire a set of political attitudes and form opinions about social issues.


Agents of Political Socialization

Family                       Neighbors

Peer group               Career

School                       Co-Workers

Religion                     Community organizations

Media                         Life stage

Higher education


Political values change throughout your life. The most important influences on your political values, however, occur during your early life. Your family, school, community (religious organizations, youth groups, civic activities) and your peer groups have the most profound effects. It is your family that gives you that basic attitude toward government that you will carry with you throughout your life.ELEPHANT & DONKEY



% of children who are Democrat

% of children who are Independent

% of children who are Republican


both parents Democrats





both parents Independents





both parents Republicans





-from National Election Study data


Family is the single most important factor in your political socialization. However, throughout your life, your political values are influenced by college, adult peers (workers, friends, neighbors, spouses), political leaders, media and your political experiences. Too, the maturation process alone will affect your political values. Until you have children, you will care little for public school issues. Until you own a home, you will care little for property tax issues. Political socialization, to a greater or lesser degree, will continue throughout your life.





The opinions you form exist at three basic levels.

1.  values and beliefs

most abstract

broad principles

Sam Huntington – liberty equality, individualism, rule of law

2.  political orientation

translation of values and beliefs into a systematic way of assessing the political environment

partisanship (psychological attachment to a party)

ideology (consistent set of values and beliefs about the purpose and scope of government)

3.  political preferences

attitudes about specific issues / candidates

campaigns have little effect on voting choices ... routine personal contact with family, neighbors, co-workers and other acquaintances is the predominant influence


The Age Gap: Old vs. Young
















Public opinion is the collected attitudes of citizens on a given issue or question.

Governments tend to react to public opinion. The fact that a public official serves at the pleasure of the voters usually tends to make that official sensitive to public opinion.

American public opinion has some unique characteristics.

The public's attitudes toward a given government policy vary over time.

The majority of American voters stand somewhere near the middle ground on most issues in American politics.


Americans tend to fall into 1 of 4 categories based on how knowledgeable they are about politics & government.

opinion leaders


informed public


uninformed public


politically clueless


American citizens are more than willing to express opinions about things of which they are totally ignorant.

American public opinion is pragmatic, rather than ideological.

We may often talk theoretically but we act practically. That does not mean we don’t have political ideologies but it does mean we probably aren’t ideologues in the true sense of the word.

American public opinion is:




Wlezien's Thermostatic Model: Government responds to public opinion but often overshoots it, causing the public to move in the opposite direction.

post-truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief



I. Public Opinion Polls

... the instruments by which we discover the public’s opinion on an issue at a given point in time

The population is the group of people you’re interested in studying.

The sample is that part of the population considered to represent the entire population.

A poll is a type of survey or inquiry into public opinion conducted by interviewing a representative sample of the population.

population vs. sample / target population vs. random sample

A random sample is the result of a process that selects a sample from the larger population entirely by chance.

A poll’s sampling error tells you how much confidence you can have in the findings of the poll. The smaller the sampling error is, the more confidence you can have that the findings are accurate. The larger the sample is in relation to the population, the smaller the error. In general, you should look for a sampling error of 3% … any poll with an error larger than 5% is probably not worth the paper it’s printed on. Properly conducted scientific polls are highly accurate and the data generated by an opinion poll are used to measure and analyze public opinion.

SLOPs (self-selected listener opinion polls), CRAPs (computerized response audience polling), intercept polls, FRUG polls (fund raising under the guise of polls) and push polls are neither scientific nor accurate. In fact, push polls only pretend to be polls in order to "push" you into believing something, e.g. "If you found out that the local community college has been overcharging students for their tuition, would you continue to attend your local college?" Push polls don't really care about your opinion ... they're trying to get you to believe their opinion.


Survey USA FAQs

Polling Report






II. Qualities of Public Opinion

A. Shape
  1. normal curve

  2. bimodal

  3. skewed

  4. U-curve

   1 normal

2 bimodal

3 skewed

4 U-curve

B. Direction (skewness)
  1. positive

  2. negative

C. Intensity
  1. strong

  2. mild

  3. neutral

Fox News (April 2004) asked the following question of 900 registered voters:

Do you support or oppose the US having taken military action to disarm Iraq and remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein? Is that strongly support/oppose or only somewhat support/oppose?

Support strongly


Support somewhat


Oppose somewhat


Oppose strongly


Not sure


In this example had the question only offered the response options, support and oppose, the results would have yielded only that 65% were in support and 31% opposed. The strength of opinion at the two extremes would not have been ascertained along with the knowledge that the conviction at either end — the strongly held views — was more than triple the more mildly held views.

D. Stability / Continuity

amount of change over time

relatively stable




The Folly of the Modern Political Poll (PDF)

Misleading Statistics Examples in Advertising and in the News

Misleading Graphs: Real Life Examples

Who in the World Is Still Answering Pollsters’ Phone Calls?

What To Make Of Polls That Show Americans Are Trending Toward The GOP

Previewing Our Wisconsin Polling Experiment

Frustrated With Polling? Pollsters Are, Too

20 Questions a Journalist (and You, too!) Should Ask About Poll Results.














The Media


I. Media-Politics Processpress conference held in a line-up room following President Kennedy's death

Information seldom full or complete.

Candidates exploit issues in advertisements.

Information becomes altered.

Information becomes short, simple and highly thematic.

Leads to the increasing importance of political advertising.


Media Effect on Politics



Increased knowledge

Increased voter skepticism

Agenda setting

Reduced choice of candidates

Candidate orientation

Politics as a game for the financial elite

Candidate issue positions


Media technology gives candidates tools


Media help candidates identify "hot" issues


5 Ways New Media Are Changing Politics

Political TV Ad Archive

TED Talk: How does news shape the way we see the world? (4:19)How to Recognize a Fake News Story



II. News Coverage

More negative than ads

One-third of candidate messages are negative

Two-thirds of news coverage is negative

Structural bias in media

Early negative coverage is hard to shake

News organizations shape sound bites from stories

Emphasize the dramatic

No meaningful context

Truth or Fiction: A non-partisan website where internet users can quickly and easily get information about eRumors, fake news, disinformation, warnings, offers, requests for help, myths, hoaxes, virus warnings and humorous or inspirational stories that are circulated by email.

PolitiFact: Staffers research statements and rate their accuracy on the Truth-O-Meter, from True to False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get the lowest rating, Pants on Fire. This highly regarded rumor analyzing site has been researching rumors since 1995.

Media Bias/Fact Check: An independent media outlet dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices. They maintain a database of 900+ news sources.

AllSides: News and issues from multiple perspectives. The site clearly identifies each news story's position (left, center or right).

How to Recognize a Fake News Story (Huffington Post)

Fake or Real? How To Self-Check The News And Get The Facts: A news item from NPR, with tips on how to self-check the news to ensure you're getting a real news story.

What are Confirmation Bias Examples?: Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to selectively search for and consider information that confirms already held beliefs. People also tend to reject evidence that contradicts their opinions. This page has some examples of confirmation bias.

The Fact Checker’s guide for detecting fake news: Clear and quick tips for how to detect fake news, from the Fact Checker section of the Washington Post.

Never trust a single source: The new rules for learning anything online

How to Spot a Bogus News Site

How to Spot (and Fight) Misinformation

SIFT: A Four-Step Method for Spotting Misinformation


Spot Fake News


It's more important than ever to be critical online. Why Fact Check?

A world with or without fact checking? We know what we prefer. (1:33)



III. Political Advertising

Convey information that will evoke positive feelings about the candidate

Information can be positive or negative

Define candidate and issue positions

Define opponents

Candidate controls content

Candidate controls the appeal

Stress image and issues

Measure citizens’ responses

Reinforce long-held predispositions about issues, personalities, political parties

Increasingly negative

Positive ads have to run again and again and again to stick

Negative ads move poll numbers in three or four days

System rewards those who win ... more important than voter turnoutCARTOON ABOUT NEGATIVE ADVERTISING



What does the research say about negative advertising?

Negative ads do not increase participation.

Negative ads reduce positive attitudes toward candidates and races.

Attack advertising extracts a toll on participation: voting drops by 2.5% with negative ads and increases by the same amount with a positive ad. It's strongest effect is on independents.

Provides valuable information.

Reveals information about candidate's strengths or weaknesses.

Stimulates the base into action.

More knowledgeable voters are most likely to pay attention to ads.

Negative ads are given more weight.

Negative ads produce stronger emotional effects than positive ads.


The Negative Consequences of Uncivil Political Discourse

The Science of Political Advertising



Political Advertising Strategies

1. Appeal to Authority

cite an authority who is not qualified to have an expert opinionPOLITICAL AD CARTOON

cite an expert when other experts disagree on the issue

cite an expert by hearsay only

2. Appeal to Force

predict dangerous outcomes if follow a course other than yours

3. Appeal to Popularity / Bandwagon

hold an opinion to be valuable because large numbers of people support it

4. Attacking the Person

attack the person making the argument, not the argument

attack the person making the argument because of those with whom he associates

insinuate that the person making the argument would stand to gain by it

5. False Dilemma

offer a limited number of options — usually two — when there are really more choices

6. Hasty Generalization

use a sample too small to support the conclusion

7. Slippery Slope

threaten a series of increasingly dire consequences if take a different course of action

A Primer on Persuasion and Influence    DANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

Propaganda Critic

Ad Critic

The 30 Second Candidate

The Living Room Candidate

Media in the United States

Covering elections, governance and the democratic process – some excellent links


IV. Trends

Fragmentation of audiences and outlets

Shift from networks toward more diverse sources such as radio, local TV, Internet

Tabloidization of news

Fierce commercial pressures

Permanent campaigns: leading to constant polls, focus groups and electronic town meetings

Texas Newspapers and Media    DANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

Why Do Americans Distrust the Media?

Are You Getting The Truth From Cable News Channels ?

Trust In The Media Has Declined In Last 15 Years














Voting Behaviorpolitical participation cartoons


I. Forms of Political Participation

Who participates in politics is an important issue. Those who participate are likely to have more political influence than those who do not. Higher education is the single most important factor in producing a high degree of participation. Older persons and men are also likely to be active. Blacks participate more than whites of equal socioeconomic status.

Although voter turnout has decreased over the past twenty years, it seems that other forms of participation, such as writing letters to public officials and engaging in demonstrations, have increased. There are many ways in which Americans can participate in politics-ranging from voting, which a majority do with some regularity, to belonging to a political club or organization, which only a few do. In an elaborate analysis of the ways people participate, Verba and Nie discovered six different kinds of citizens.

Inactives participate little if at all (22%).

Parochial participants neither vote nor engage in campaigns or community activity, but they do contact officials about specific, often personal, problems (4%).

Communalists engage in community activities of a nonpartisan nature (20%).

Voting specialists regularly vote but do little else (21%).

Campaigners vote and also participate in conflictual political activities, such as campaigns (15%).

Complete activists participate in all forms of political activity (11%).

Americans are less likely to vote than are Europeans. The reasons for this difference are complex. First, the US has an almost bewildering number of elective offices, an estimated 521,000 positions. Voters' enthusiasm for elections is surely deflated by the sheer volume of names with which they must familiarize themselves. In Europe, in contrast, each voter generally is confronted with only one or two offices to fill per election, so that electoral decisions do not impose a burden on the voter. Even in Europe, however, voter apathy increases with the number of elections. Too much democracy, in terms of either selecting government offices or making policy, is exhausting.

A second explanation for the poor turnout rate involves the mechanics of voting procedures. It is common in other countries for voting to be compulsory by law and for registration to be carried out automatically by the government. Mandatory voting would probably fail to survive a constitutional challenge in this country on First Amendment grounds. Just as people have a right not to speak (like refusing to salute the flag), it would seem to follow that they have a right to refrain from voting as well. Simplifying registration is a different matter. Republicans in particular have tended to resist any easing of registration standards. President Bush vetoed legislation designed to enable voters to register when obtaining a driver's license, legislation passed in 1993 and in effect as of 1995. As of summer 1997, the partisan breakdown of new voters remained unknown.

The weakness of political parties must also be considered. Unlike in the past, parties today lack the patronage and welfare incentives to mobilize voting blocs. Moreover, the impact of progressive reforms, such as the Australian ballot and stricter registration requirements for voting, have contributed to the loss of party influence over the electorate.

All these factors combine to explain why people do not vote in large numbers in the US. Yet it is equally important to comprehend the other side of the issue, namely, the factors that lead people to vote. Research underscores the significance of personal characteristics in motivating a person's decision to participate on election day. Education is the most critical variable. As their educational level increases, individuals develop a stronger sense of civic duty and a greater interest in, and knowledge of, politics. But education alone is not a sufficient explanation, since voting rates have continued to decline despite the proliferation of college degrees in recent decades. Another characteristic that correlates with voting is age; older voters are more likely to participate. But here again, overall voting rates have diminished while the population has aged. Something other than personal characteristics therefore seem to play a role in election turnout: the characteristics of the election itself. Most recent elections have presented voters with uninspiring candidates who failed to stimulate interest or excitement. The lack of a realigning issue has made politics boring. However, turnout reaches notable peaks in certain elections, as in 1964 (a sharp ideological choice between candidates) and 1992 (an economy in recession and the charismatic candidate H. Ross Perot). Voters participate when aroused to do so.

Considering how few tangible rewards participation produces, it is not surprising that over 40% of Americans either do not participate at all or limit their participation to voting. Compared to citizens of other democracies, Americans vote less but engage more in other forms of activity.

How to Participate in Politics



II. Voter Turnout Data

    A. regional patterns

        1. northern and middle states higher

        2. western and southern states lower

        3. link turnout to political culture

    B. calculating turnout

        1. voting age population (VAP): all adults over 18

        2. registered voters: citizens registered to vote

        3. turnout based on registered voters higher than turnout based on VAP


Voting is the principal means of political participation for most Texans.

Years of formal schooling is the single best socioeconomic predictor of the likelihood of an individual to vote.

The primary source of campaign news in the US is television.

In a pivotal state (a large, populous state with many electoral votes that a candidate must win to be elected), presidential candidates are forced to rely on advertising.

Candidates try to sell themselves and their ideas on television since it is the surest means of reaching the largest number of people.

In an effort to affect large numbers of voters, candidates often rely on personal attacks on opponents ... negative campaigning. We complain about negative campaigning, but it works!

Texans are most likely to learn political information about candidates from and make their voting decisions based on advertising materials prepared by the candidates.



III. Low Turnouts in Texas


A. current registration laws

  1. citizen: immigrants in Texas cannot vote

  2. 18 years old

  3. 30-day registration deadline (longer than most states)

B. historical barriers

  1. $1.75 poll tax: a device used in Texas to prevent lower income persons from voting during the 20th centuryyoung voters voting early

  2. annual registration required

  3. white primaries: in one-party state the primary determines winner of general election

  4. property requirements for local elections

  5. women’s suffrage

C. unique social factors in Texas that keep turnout low

  1. higher poverty rates

  2. large minority population

  3. large immigrant population

  4. lower than average educational levels

  5. lower than average age

D. lack of two-party competition

  1. one-party Democratic from end of Reconstruction until 1970s

  2. same case in most former Confederate states

  3. reapportionment

    How Texas Plans to Make Its House Districts Even Redder

E. traditional/individual culture

F. staggered local elections

Voter Fraud


The legal voting requirements include 18 years of age, thirty days residency, registered, and no felony offenses. Approximately 45% of all eligible voters have turned out to vote in elections since 1960. The voter turnout among Hispanics and Blacks is usually low because they feel they have little stake in politics. As a general rule, whites vote; minorities do not. Older people and those with higher incomes vote, while the young and poor do not. Those with professional jobs vote; those with blue- and pink-collar jobs do not. This should not be surprising since various means to prevent these people from voting have been used throughout our history. Literacy tests and the white primary were aimed at minorities. The poll tax was used to prevent many lower income persons from voting during much of the 20th century. How frequent a voter are you? Do you fit the stereotypes above?



Project Vote Smart - Texas

Vote: The Machinery of Democracy

Texas’s new law is the climax of a record-shattering year for voting restrictions. (2021)

‘My Vote Was Rejected’: Trial Underway in Texas over New Voting Law














Interest Groups


An interest group is an organization of individuals with similar views that tries to influence government to respond favorably to those views.

The principal purpose of interest group activity is to influence government to respond to the group’s objectives.


I. Types of Interest Groups


A. Membership OrganizationsInterest Group Effectiveness

  1. business (dominant)

  2. agriculture

  3. professional organizations (doctors, lawyers, teachers)

  4. labor unions (weak in Texas, a right-to-work state)

  5. ethnic (NAACP, LULAC)

  6. religious organizations

B. Non-Membership Organizations

  1. individual businesses not part of a membership organization

C. Local Governments

D. Functions of Interest Groups

  1. They provide a vehicle for grassroots political participation.

  2. They channel information on key issues to the general public.

  3. They monitor the performance of federal officials and programs.



II. Techniques Used by Interest Groups


A. lobbying

  1. communication by a representative of an interest group directed at a government official to influence the official’s decisions

  2. legislature: provide information, communications with constituents, file billsinterest groups

  3. executive agencies: influence implementation of laws

  4. types of lobbyists

    1. contract

    2. in-house

    3. government (local)

    4. citizen

    5. private individual

B. electioneering

  1. donate $ to campaign

  2. media strategy (TV ads, newspaper ads)

  3. raise $ for candidates

  4. campaign volunteers

C. grassroots lobbying - shape public opinion

Groups Allied with the Democratic Party

Groups Allied with the Republican Party

organized labor

business groups and trade organizations

environmental organizations

most professional organizations, including doctors and realtors

consumer groups

farm groups

African-American rights organizations

religious conservatives

Hispanic rights groups

National Rifle Association

gay and lesbian rights organizations

right-to-life advocates

teachers' groups

tort reform organizations

Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights

Action League


trial lawyers


women rights group




III. Interest Group Power


A. Money: oil and gas industry

B. Membership: strength in numbers, teachers

C. Hire former legislators: former members know system and the current membersINTEREST GROUP GRAPHIC

D. Distribution across state

  1. wide distribution: strong

  2. narrow or limited distribution: weaker



IV. Comparing Interest Group Power Across States


A. economic diversity

  1. more diverse economy: more groups, less influence

  2. less diverse economy: few dominant groups, more influence

B. party strength

  1. weak two-party competition: strong groups

  2. strong two-party system: weak groups

C. structure of state government

  1. decentralized executive structure: strong groups 

    1. iron triangle (legislative committee, executive agency, interest group)

  2. centralized executive structure: weaker groups


An interest group is any organized group whose members have common views about certain issues and so try to influence the government. There are a number of distinct differences between political parties and interest groups. For example, the purpose of a political party is strictly political. Parties want to win elections. The purpose of an interest group, however, is to represent its members' interests. This may mean supporting a winning candidate but it means many other things as well, such as influencing legislation. Interest groups differ on membership, as well. The membership of a political party is extensive (broad activity) and inclusive (everyone) – meaning they include everyone who is interested in a broad range of issues. By contrast, interest groups have a membership that is intensive (specific activity) and exclusive (not everyone) – only those people who share their opinions on a narrow range of issues are welcomed. Be careful, though, since in recent years the parties have from time to time been captured by small groups that act more like interest groups than political parties. The antiwar Democrats of the 1970s and the fundamentalist Christian Republicans of the 1980s and 1990s are two good examples. Because Texas has traditionally had weak political parties, it has had very strong interest groups to fill the gap.

All interest groups have three general functions. First, they act to identify, aggregate and express the interests of different segments of society. Second, they gather and disseminate information. Third, they provide expertise to the government and to their members. Depending on whom they are trying to influence, interest groups use a number of techniques to carry out these functions. In the executive and legislative arenas, interest groups engage in lobbying, which is presenting views directly to government officials. Lobbying is one of the most successful techniques that interest groups have. Therefore, a lobbyist's most important asset is access. Can he readily meet with legislators and executives? Lobbying is very effective because the legislature lacks independent sources of information. Interest groups also attempt to influence the legislative and executive branches by influencing elections with money, votes, volunteers and endorsements. This is known as electoral activity or electioneering. In order to circumvent campaign contribution laws, interest groups set up PACs, or political action committees. The central purpose of a PAC is to provide campaign funds for candidates. Most recently organized PACs are associated with corporations which are not allowed to make campaign contributions. Interest groups have become such a powerful force in the Texas legislature, they are often referred to as the third house.

In the bureaucratic arena, interest groups regularly attempt to influence the legislature in order to bring about an increase or a decrease in the appropriations to agencies that work with or against the interest group. Interest groups often have a direct involvement in developing and implementing programs run by the bureaucracy. We often speak of an iron triangle that exists between legislators, bureaucrats and lobbyists. These groups often become so intertwined and interdependent that it is hard to tell who is who.

In the judicial arena, small, not-so-popular interest groups that have little money and little chance of winning in the legislature are more active since these techniques are less expensive than other techniques. Interest groups frequently file amicus curiae briefs. These briefs express the opinion of the interest group on a case that is appearing before the court in an attempt to influence the judge’s ruling. The three largest filers of amicus curiae briefs are the US Attorney General’s Office, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP. A more extensive technique used in the judicial arena is sponsoring test cases. Often, interest groups will use a particular person or incident as a test case of the constitutionality of a particular law. Two excellent examples of test cases sponsored by interest groups were Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and Roe v. Wade. In those states where judges are elected, interest groups may engage in electoral activity although, as with the legislative and executive arenas, this technique can be quite expensive.

Finally interest groups attempt to influence you and me. In the public arena, interest groups engage in grass roots activities, which include a whole list of techniques from advertising to mass mailings. While interest groups are often vilified in the US, they play an important role in a democracy. They allow citizens to become actively engaged in influencing the government on issues that are of importance to them. In fact, one in three Americans are members of one or more interest groups.  As with voting, higher educated, higher income professionals are most likely to be members of interest groups. Do you belong to or have you thought of belonging to an interest group? Why or why not? If you’ve never joined an interest group, give it a try! You might find that you like the experience.


Open Secrets

The Texas Group Waging a National Crusade against Climate Action














Political Parties


Texas has weak parties and strong interest groups.

The principal purpose of political party activity is to gain control of government by winning elections.



I. 50 Two-Party Systems

A. state parties are independent of national organizations

1. few national offices, many state offices

2. common goals and similar issues, but separate organizations

B. state party ideology

1. competitive vs. noncompetitive states

2. policy-relevant vs. non-policy-relevant states

3. Texas

a. not competitive, Republican dominance

b. not policy relevant: old southern Democrats similar to new Republicans

c. traditional culture, small government, low taxes



II. Party Realignment in Texas


A. One-party DemocraticParty Identification in Texas, 1952-2008

  1. end of Reconstruction through 1970s

  2. southern Democratic hostility to party of Lincoln, Reconstruction, Yankees

  3. conservative Democrats dominate party: landowners and merchants

  4. no competition for almost a century

  5. Yellow Dog Democrats

B. a very gradual realignment from top to bottom
  1. 1950s presidential elections: Eisenhower over Stevenson

  2. 1961: first Republican senator since Reconstruction (Tower)

  3. 1970s: first Republican governor since Reconstruction (Clements)

  4. 1980s: Democratic defectors (Gramm)

  5. 1990s: Republican dominance ushered in by Bush

  6. 21st century Republicans taking traditional Democratic county offices

  7. The single factor most responsible for Republican growth in Texas after WWII was the increased size and prosperity of the Texas middle and upper classes.

C. voter profiles




urban areas



new Texans

old and native Texans





Which of the following policies would a conservative support?

a.   strengthening the hand of labor unions

b.   tighter government regulations of factory emissions of pollutants

c.   strengthening protection of women, ethnic minorities, and the disabled in employment discrimination matters

d.   reduction or elimination of the graduated income tax


Which of the following policies would a liberal support?

a.   restricting the ability of a woman to obtain an abortion

b.   prohibiting gays and lesbians from holding public employment

c.   laws that provide equal pay for equal work for women

d.   reducing the progressiveness of the national income tax

D. de-alignment and the declining influence of parties
  1. more independent voters

  2. party outsiders winning party nominations       

  3. media weeds out candidates, not party leaders

  4. raise $ from individuals and interest groups, not just parties

  5. well-funded candidates have upper hand, not party organizations

E. third-party movements in Texas
  1. Raza Unida (1970s)

  2. Libertarians (1990s)

  3. Ross Perot

Some Notes on the Political Geography of the 2022 Election in Texas

A GOP Texas school board member campaigned against schools indoctrinating kids. Then she read the curriculum.



III. The State Party OrganizationChart Showing Structure of Major Political Parties in Texas


A. Permanent Party: continuity between elections

  1. precinct chair: basic level in the party organization in Texas

  2. county chair and executive committee

  3. state chair and executive committee

B. Temporary Party: only during election years

  1. precinct convention: held on primary election day, must vote in primary to attend

    select delegates to:

  2. county or district convention

    select delegates to:

  3. state convention

    1. select national convention delegates

    2. nominate electors for electoral college (presidential election years only)

    3. write party platform

C. Delegate selection systems

  1. primary elections used in Texas

  2. caucus used in Iowa


Political parties in the US are composed of two different structures. The permanent party structure is those people and organizations that keep the party functioning on a daily basis. The permanent party structure has three parts. The party organization is composed of all those activists, volunteers and party officials that are active in the day-to-day functioning of the party. The party organization is organized like the federal government – it has organizations at the national, state and local levels. That means it is decentralized – decisions and money flow from the bottom to the top. The party organization is also diverse – each organization has its own unique flavor. Among the people in the party organization are the party officials. Check with your text to find out the duties of the following party officials and how they are chosen: the national chair and vice chair, the national executive committee, the state chair and vice chair, the state executive committee, the county chair and county executive committee, and the precinct chair. The precinct chair is the basic level in the party organization in Texas.

The party-in-government, the second part of the permanent party organization, is composed of all those elected government officials of the party. You will frequently find conflict between the party organization and the party-in-government over who is in charge of the party and who should determine its course, beliefs, strategy, platform and so forth. Because of the rise of candidate-centered campaigns, candidates no longer need party permission or support to get elected. Too, the party cannot determine who uses its name. Thus government officials are elected with the label of the party, but without party support, endorsement or loyalty.

The party-in-the-electorate is all those people who identify with the party. Party identification makes it more likely that people will get involved in politics. Independents vote in much less numbers than do people who are self-identified as belonging to a party.

The second major structure of US political parties is the temporary party structure, sometimes called the Convention System. The temporary party structure occurs every two years beginning with the primary election and ending with the national convention. It may involve people who have no real connection with the party, but rather are ideologues or one-issue groups that do not necessarily represent the party as a whole (much less the voters). Nonetheless, because these people attend the party conventions in large numbers, it is these people who decide party issues. The convention system is described in detail in your text. It consists of the precinct convention/caucus, the county convention, the state convention and the national convention. Each convention level has its own responsibilities. The national convention adopts a national platform and rules, elects a national chair and vice chair, and selects the party’s presidential nominee every 4 years. The state convention adopts a state platform and rules, elects a national committeeman and committeewoman, elects delegates to the national convention, elects the state chair and vice chair, and elects the district committeemen and committeewomen who make up the state executive committee. The county convention adopts the county platform and rules, and elects delegates to the state convention. The precinct convention adopts precinct resolutions and elects delegates to the county convention. As we spend more time on elections, you will begin to see the how the role of the parties has changed over the last two hundred years.

From the end of Reconstruction until the late 1970s, the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics. The Republican Party began to grow, however, following WWII with the increased size and prosperity of the middle and upper classes in Texas. The first Republican official elected to a statewide office was John Tower, who was elected to the US Senate in 1961. The Republican base generally lies in urbanized, rapidly growing areas that contain lots of non-Texans. African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic. This has been true of Hispanics as well, although the latter may be changing.

The majority of American voters stand somewhere near the middle ground on many issues of American politics. Where do you place yourself politically? Now, most importantly, why? If you think you are a conservative ... why? If you think you are a liberal ... why? Don't look at only one or two issues. Look at a broad range of issues.














Campaigns and Elections


I. Primary Elections

Primary elections are the first elections held in an electoral cycle. Primary elections are voting processes by which voters can indicate their preference for their party's candidate in an upcoming general election. The laws governing primary elections vary from state to state and can vary within states by locality and by political party. Primaries are generally considered partisan or nonpartisan.

Our current primary system has a number of drawbacks. In one-party states (which often have candidates from only one party running), a partisan primary election may be the only election in which voters have a choice. Too, since partisan gerrymandering has resulted in the vast majority of districts being “safe,” partisan primary elections can limit choice even in competitive states. Only 10% of each party’s voters, who tend towards the extremes, show up for partisan primaries, resulting in increasingly extreme candidates making it to the general election. Partisan primary elections disproportionately empower partisan gatekeepers, who largely decide the candidates that receive support and publicity. By the time most voters make their voices heard, the winner has already been decided. Thus, partisan primary elections do a poor job of reflecting the true preferences of the voters in a district.

Texas officially recognizes four political parties: the Democratic, Green, Libertarian and Republican parties. Primaries must be held by any party receiving 20% or more of the total number of votes received by all candidates for governor in the most recent election. Primaries are also used to choose the party’s convention delegates and leaders. Political parties receiving 2%-20% must nominate their candidates through a convention process.

open: A voter of any  political affiliation may vote in the primary of any party. For example, a voter registered as a Democrat can choose to vote in the Republican primary. A voter may only vote in one party’s primary. In many states, voters are not required to choose a political affiliation when they register to vote. States vary in how they administer open primaries for absentee voters. Critics of this type worry that members of the opposing party can “raid” the election process through crossover voting. Considered a partisan primary.

In Texas, voters must affiliate with a party but not at the time of registration so it is considered an open primary state. There are several main ways for a voter to affiliate with a party: by being accepted to vote in a party’s primary election, by taking the required oath at a party precinct convention, or by taking a party oath of affiliation generally. A voter’s affiliation with a party automatically expires at the end of each calendar year. After being affiliated with a party, a voter is not able to change or cancel their party affiliation until the end of the calendar year. If a voter has not yet affiliated with a party, they are able to vote in either party’s primary election. However, if a voter votes in the primary of one party, they will only be able to vote in that party’s primary runoff election. Texas primary elections are held on the first Tuesday in March of even-numbered years and local election officials (county, city and township) are predominantly responsible for administering them.

closed: Voters may only vote in the primary of the party they are registered with. For example, a voter registered as a Republican can only vote in a Republican primary. Absentee voters in states that conduct closed primaries are often required to choose a party affiliation on their voter registration form in order to participate in the state’s primary elections. Voters who have declared loyalty to minor parties or are Independent are not permitted to participate. Considered a partisan primary.

semi-closed: Independent voters, or those without a party affiliation, may choose which party’s primary they want to vote in. Those registered with a party may only vote in that party’s primary. For example, a voter registered as a Democrat may only vote in a Democratic primary, while a voter registered as an Independent may choose to vote in a Democratic or Republican primary. Considered a partisan primary.

top-two: All candidates are listed on the same ballot. Voters choose one candidate per office regardless of party affiliation. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of their partisan affiliations, Consequently, it is possible for two candidates belonging to the same political party to win in a top-two primary and face off in the general election. Considered a nonpartisan primary.

top-four: All candidates are listed on the same ballot. Voters are allowed to choose one candidate per office regardless of the candidate's party affiliation. The top four vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of their partisan affiliations. Consequently, it is possible for four candidates belonging to the same political party to win in a top-four primary and face off in the general election. Considered a nonpartisan primary.

blanket: All candidates are listed on the same ballot. Voters are allowed to choose one candidate per office regardless of the candidate's party affiliation. The top vote-getters from each party that is participating in the primary then advance to the general election. Consequently, one candidate for each political party participating in the primary will face off in the general election. Considered a nonpartisan primary.

runoff: An election held if no candidate for a particular office receives the vote necessary to be elected in an election requiring a majority vote.

Texas requires a majority to win in primary elections so that if no candidate for an office wins 50%+ of the vote, a runoff is held between the candidates with the top two numbers of votes.

presidential preference: Presidential candidates are not directly nominated via primary elections but rather are formally nominated at political party conventions. Presidential preference primary elections or caucuses are held in each state to determine how that state's delegation will vote during the nominating convention. A presidential preference primary is an election at which a political party’s voters are given an opportunity to express their preferences for the party’s presidential candidates, for the purpose of determining the allocation of the party’s delegates from that state to the party’s national presidential nominating convention. There are differences in whether the ballot lists candidate or delegate names. The presidential preference primary is a direct vote for a specific candidate. The voter chooses the candidate by name. The second method is more indirect, giving the voter a choice among delegate names rather than candidate names. Delegates voice support for a particular candidate or remain uncommitted. The Democratic Party always uses a proportional method for awarding delegates. The percentage of delegates each candidate is awarded (or the number of undecided delegates) is representative of the number of primary votes for the candidate. For example imagine a state with ten delegates and three candidates. If 60% of the people supported candidate X, 20% supported candidate Y, and 20% supported candidate Z, candidate X would receive six delegates and candidates Y and Z would each receive two delegates. The Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, allows each state to decide whether to use the winner-take-all method or the proportional method. In the winner-take-all method the candidate whom the majority of voters supports receives all the delegates for the state.

Contested ConventionsAlthough voters across the country cast ballots for their preferred presidential candidate during the presidential primary season, it’s actually the delegates to the national party conventions who select the presidential nominees for each major party. Pledged/bound delegates must vote for a particular presidential candidate at the convention based on the results of the primary or caucus in their state. The requirement to vote for a specific candidate lasts at least through the first round of voting at the convention, but depending on state and party rules, some pledged/bound delegates become free to vote for any candidate on subsequent rounds of voting. Unpledged/unbound/super delegates may support any presidential candidate regardless of the primary or caucus results in their state or local district.

There is a great deal of disagreement on whether pledged/bound delegates could be stopped at convention if they voted contrary to their pledge. Further, under Democratic Party rules “delegates pledged to a specific candidate are encouraged - but not required - to vote for the candidate they had been selected to support.” Republican delegates may be pledged to a candidate by personal statements or even state law but, according to RNC rules, “may cast their vote for anyone at the convention.”

In Texas, the names of presidential candidates are printed as the first race on the primary ballot under the heading "Preference For Presidential Nominee." Delegates are chosen via the so-called Texas Two-Step method because Texans are required to first vote in the primary election in order to be eligible for participation in party caucuses in which delegates are selected. The Republican Party of Texas has a winner-take-all provision in its primary, and the chances any candidate will get all of that party’s Texas delegates are very small. That candidate would have to win more than 50% of the vote statewide and also in each of the state’s 38 congressional districts. Absent that, a pro-rata system is followed to allocate delegates roughly according to votes received. All Republican delegates are bound through the first two rounds of voting. The Texas Democratic Party no longer selects state delegates at caucuses. After the votes of Texans participating in the Democratic primary are counted, delegates are awarded among the candidates who received 15% or more of the vote, in proportion to the votes received by each. It would be even harder for a Democrat than for a Republican to get all of the Texas delegates from their party in a presidential primary. A Democratic candidate could do so only by winning 85% of the vote statewide and in each of Texas’ 31 state Senate districts. About 10% of Democratic delegates are unpledged, while the rest are pledged through the first round of voting.



II. General Elections

General elections are statewide elections held every two years in even-numbered years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In general elections candidates (usually chosen via a primary election) are elected to office. Major state officials (such as the attorney general, governor, lieutenant governor and comptroller of public accounts) are elected in nonpresidential/midterm election years. General elections occur at local, state and federal levels. In some cases, general elections may occur at irregular times (special elections), such as to elect a replacement for a seat vacated due to death, resignation or removal from office. Other than those things stated in the US Constitution regarding federal elections, states have control over the administration of general elections, including those for federal offices.

In Texas, general elections for state and county offices are held in even-numbered years. General elections for many local offices, such as mayors and school boards, are held in odd-numbered years. A plurality (most votes) is required to win in Texas general elections. Texas has automatic recounts only in the case of a tie vote. However, it has liberal laws on candidate-requested recounts. A losing candidate can request and pay for a recount if the margin between the top candidates is less than 10% of the leader's vote total. Losing candidates can also request recounts in any race with fewer than 1,000 total votes.

A.  Constitutional Amendment elections: Amending the Texas Constitution is a two-step process. The Texas Legislature is required to pass proposed amendments with a two-thirds vote. The proposed amendments are then approved (or not) by a majority of Texas voters in state-wide general elections held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in odd-numbered years. This method of amending the constitution has a number of problems.

  1. Although the issues voted on are often important and have far-reaching effects, voter turnout is usually extremely low (9%-15% of registered voters). That means a tiny number of Texans are making important decisions for all.

  2. Although voting is simple (a “yes” vote supports amending the constitution, a “no” vote opposes amending the constitution) and voters usually know where they stand on the issues involved, the wording of the proposed amendments passed by the legislature is often so confusing that voters don’t know whether to vote for or against them. For example, voters were told one proposed amendment would lower property taxes for disabled and elderly homeowners. This is what appeared on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the reduction of the amount of a limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for general elementary and secondary public school purposes on the residence homestead of a person who is elderly or disabled to reflect any statutory reduction from the preceding tax year in the maximum compressed rate of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for those purposes on the homestead.”

  3. The legislature sometimes packages several provisions into one proposed amendment (usually 1 very popular and 1 or more unpopular), creating a lose-lose situation for voters.

  4. Many proposed amendments deal with local issues, which means those localities are at the mercy of state-wide voters. For example, in 2023 voters state wide had decide whether or not to allow Galveston County to eliminate its county treasurer position.

  5. Most Constitutional Amendment elections have at least a dozen proposed amendments (and often many more) on the ballot so that voting often becomes an endurance contest.

  6. Keep in mind that all of this - the confusion, the lack of participation, the packing and so on - is part of amending the constitution, the basic law of the state.

B.  Presidential general elections: Although in most states the names of the candidates for president and vice president appear on the ballot, voters are not electing them. Voters are electing a slate of electors, who collectively will comprise the Electoral College and elect the president and vice president.

The Electoral College is a group of electors that formally elects the president and vice president (elector: a person who elects someone else, college: a decision-making group such as the College of Cardinals, which elects the pope). The number of electors from each state is equal to the sum of the state's senators and representatives in the Congress. The District of Columbia received the right to be represented by electors in 1961 with the ratification of the 23d Amendment. Today, the Electoral College has 538 representatives.

The Founding Fathers rejected the idea of direct elections. This was, of course, a time when communication and travel were difficult and there were no national parties. In the first presidential election, George Washington and John Adams were elected president and vice president respectively by the Electoral College. There was no popular vote.

The power to determine the method of choosing electors belongs to the states. Generally, the parties select the slate of electors, who are then chosen by popular vote. The electors assemble in their respective state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. According to the Constitution, the electors may exercise their own discretion in voting, but in practice all the votes in a given state go to the presidential candidate who has received the plurality of the popular vote. The candidate who becomes the President must win at least 270 electoral votes.

Some have proposed replacing the Electoral College with a system of direct elections. Such proposals would require amending the US Constitution. A system of direct elections would not only reduce the power of the two major political parties, but would also reduce the importance of the states in the electoral process.

In Texas, each political party nominates a slate of electors equal to the number of votes the state has in the Electoral College. Each also nominates a list of alternate electors. The names of the presidential and vice presidential candidates appear on the general election ballot. (State law forbids the placing of presidential elector names on the ballot.) However, a vote for a presidential candidate and the candidate’s running mate is counted as a vote for the corresponding presidential elector nominees. So, for example, if the Republican candidate for president wins the Texas general election, the Republican slate of electors are the winning electors and will meet to cast Texas’ votes for president.

Prior to their meeting in Austin, each elector and alternate elector must take the following oath: "If selected for the position of elector, I swear to serve and to mark my ballots for president and vice president for the nominees for those offices of the party that nominated me." When the winning slate of electors and alternate electors meet, the Texas Secretary of State presides and distributes two ballots to each elector - one for president and one for vice president. Each elector is required to mark both ballots in accordance with their oath, sign the ballots and return them to the SOS. If an elector does not, that elector’s office is considered vacant, a new elector is immediately chosen from the alternate electors, both ballots are redistributed to the group of electors, and they vote again. This process is repeated until all of the state’s electoral votes have been cast.

C.  drawing legislative districts

  1. reapportionment: the process of distributing the 435 US House seats among the 50 states based on changes in population. It is the Constitutional basis for conducting the decennial census.

  2. redistricting: happens after reapportionment, so that each district has roughly the same number of people. Once a state finds out how many House seats it will have for the next 10 years, it redraws the district lines for its seats so that each House district in the state represents the same number of people. The Census tells a state where its residents are located within the state. Based on the results, the state then redraws not only the district lines for its US House seats but also for state legislative seats, state boards and commissions, judicial districts, local officials - the district for any elected office that is not statewide - so that all electoral districts represent an equal number of people.

There is no universal process for drawing district maps, so states use different methods. 17 states currently give some form of redistricting commission responsibility over the map-drawing process. Commissions may be independent, bipartisan, advisory or act only as a backup. 33 states currently assign redistricting to their legislators. Unfortunately, with partisan legislators drawing their own boundaries, there is ample room for political bias.

When redistricting, state legislatures or redistricting commissions are provided certain criteria with which to draw the lines. These criteria are intended to make the districts easy to identify and understand, and to ensure fairness and consistency. All states must comply with the federal constitutional requirements related to population and anti-discrimination. All districts must be as nearly equal in population as practicable. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits plans that intentionally or inadvertently discriminate on the basis of race, which could dilute the minority vote.

In addition to these mandatory standards set out by the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, states are allowed to adopt their own redistricting criteria or principles for drawing the plans. These may be found in state constitutions or statutes or be adopted by a legislature, chamber or committee, or by a court when the legislative process fails. These traditional districting principles have been adopted by many states:

  1. compactness: having the minimum distance between all the parts of a constituency (a circle, square or hexagon)

  1. contiguity: all parts of a district being connected at some point with the rest of the district

  1. preservation of political subdivisions: not crossing county, city or town boundaries when drawing districts

  1. preservation of communities of interest: geographical areas, such as neighborhoods of a city or regions of a state, where the residents have common political interests that do not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of a political subdivision, such as a city or county

  1. preservation of cores of prior districts: maintaining districts as previously drawn, to the extent possible, leading to continuity of representation

  1. avoiding pairing incumbents: avoiding districts that would create contests between incumbents

  1. prohibition on favoring or disfavoring an incumbent, candidate or party: the prohibition in a given state may be broader, covering any person or group, or it may be limited to intentionally or unduly favoring a person or group

  1. prohibition on using partisan data: line drawers, whether commissioners, nonpartisan staff or legislators, are prohibited from using incumbent residences, election results, party registration or other socio-economic data as an input when redrawing districts

  1. competitiveness: districts having relatively even partisan balance, making competition between the two major parties more intense to avoid the creation of “safe” districts for a particular party

  1. proportionality: the statewide proportion of districts whose voters (based on statewide state and federal partisan general election results durin

  2. g the last ten years) favor each political party correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters

For US House districts, Texas adheres only to the criteria of equal population and VRA requirements when redistricting. For the redistricting of state legislative seats, the Texas Constitution also requires contiguity and the preservation of political subdivisions.

  1. malapportionment: the creation of electoral districts with unequal population. For example, if one district has 10,000 voters and another has 100,000 voters, voters in the former district have ten times the influence, per person, over the governing body. Sometimes malapportionment is built into the system. For example, the US Constitution gives every state 2 US Senators even though, for example, California has 70 times the population of Wyoming, making California residents vastly underrepresented.

    1. Baker vs. Carr (1962): The 14th Amendment prohibits substantial disparities or malapportionment in total population between electoral districts in the same districting plan … the one- person, one-vote principle.

    2. Reynolds vs. Sims (1964): Under Baker, the electoral districts of state legislative chambers must be roughly equal in population.

  2. Voting Rights Act: Passed at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965, the VRA prevents the systemic and widespread voter discrimination experienced by people of color. The VRA has been used to block voter suppression laws such as demands for voter identification, voter registration purges and making voter registration harder. The process of voting involves not only casting a vote. It also includes rules and processes that determine who is eligible, how to register, how to vote, when polls are open and whether people are put in districts that give them a fair chance of electing their candidate of choice. Section 2 of the VRA protects voters from discrimination based on race, color or membership in a language minority group in all these election procedures.

However, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the VRA in Shelby v. Holder (2013) and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021). These decisions struck down sections 2 and 5 of the VRA, allowing states with a history of racially discriminatory maps and voting rules to implement new voting laws and maps without federal approval, resulting in new discriminatory practices and restrictive voting laws across the country. How effectively the VRA will be able to protect voters of color going into the future is now in doubt.

12/2023 update: The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that only the federal government could bring a legal challenge under Section 2 of the VRA, a crucial part of the law that prohibits election or voting practices that discriminate against Americans based on race, effectively barring private citizens and civil rights groups from filing lawsuits.

  1. structural bias: the institutional patterns and practices that confer advantage to some and disadvantage to others based on identity. The US Constitution and constitutional law regulate the workings of government and supply the rules of the political game. Whether by design or by accident, these rules sometimes tilt the playing field for or against certain political groups - not just episodically, based on who holds power at a given moment, but systematically over time - in terms of electoral outcomes or policy objectives.

    1. single-member district system: the most common US electoral system. It is used to elect the US House and most state and local legislatures. Under single-member systems, an area is divided into a number of geographically defined voting districts, each represented by a single elected official. Voters can only vote for their district’s representative, with the highest vote-getter winning election. Single-member districts can provide voters with one easily identifiable district representative, can maximize accountability because a single representative can be held responsible and can be re-elected or defeated in the next election, and can ensure geographic representation. However, single-member districts must be redrawn on a regular basis to maintain populations of relatively equal size. They are also usually artificial geographic entities whose boundaries don’t delineate clearly identifiable communities, and as a consequence, have no particular relevance to citizens. Because of their winner-take-all nature, single-member districts tend to over-represent the majority party and under-represent other parties. This can lead to bias.

    2. urban-rural polarization: Because Democrats are increasingly concentrated in densely populated cities, their candidates win by overwhelming majorities in large cities but often lose by relatively small margins elsewhere. They often win a greater share of votes than their share of seats, especially in the states of the Midwest, where it is commonplace for the Democrats to win statewide elections without coming anywhere near a majority in the state legislature or the House delegation. This leads to political underrepresentation of people living in cities.

    3. wasted votes: Single-member districts mean that a vote cast for a losing candidate will not be represented. Similarly, a vote cast for a candidate over the threshold needed to win is electorally useless. Both of these votes are wasted votes. Democrats cast more wasted votes than Republicans due to an imbalance in how party members are distributed among districts. This imbalance is a result of both natural sorting and political gerrymandering.

    4. natural sorting: describes how members of the two parties are distributed across the country. Democrats are heavily concentrated in cities and urban areas. Republicans tend to be scattered among rural, exurban and suburban districts. There are more districts with very high concentrations of Democratic voters than there are districts with very high concentrations of Republican voters. This Democratic density makes it easy to win individual seats but creates lots of wasted votes. The end result is that voters are misrepresented in their government.

  1. misrepresentation: In red states, Republicans garnered 56% of the vote but 74.6% of representation. In blue states, Democrats won 60.3% of the vote but 69.1% of representation (seat bonus bias: the gap between each party’s share of the national popular vote and their share of seats). In the House, Democrats over-represent blue states by 19 seats, whereas Republicans over-represent red states by 40 seats. For individual states, misrepresentation is even larger. The level of misrepresentation is 20% or greater in 23 states - almost half the country - and over 30% in 12 states. Misrepresentation can lead to social and economic policy distortions, feed distrust and drive discontent in government. The edge provided by this misrepresentation gives the majority party disproportionate power that is particularly destabilizing and dangerous in an era of heightened polarization and partisanship.

  1. packing and crackinggerrymandering: the practice of drawing the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage over its rivals (political or partisan gerrymandering) or that dilutes the voting power of members of ethnic or linguistic minority groups (racial gerrymandering), while ignoring voter preferences. Gerrymandering is nearly as old as the US (1780s) but it has changed dramatically since the founding. Where politicians once had to pick from a few maps drawn by hand, they now can create and pick from thousands of computer-generated maps, using tactics called packing and cracking. Packing is drawing districts to heavily over-represent the opposition party, wasting as many votes as possible over the winning threshold. Cracking is the opposite: diluting the opposition’s voters into districts so they cannot reach the threshold. Most statewide gerrymanders are a combination of packing and cracking.

Done right, redistricting is a chance to create maps that, in the words of John Adams, are an “exact portrait, a miniature” of the people as a whole. A truly representative government would mean that the composition of the officials elected from districts would mirror the political positions of the population. For instance, if the country were 60% Republican, Congress ought to be 60% Republican as well. But sometimes the redistricting process is used to draw maps that manufacture election outcomes that are detached from the preferences of voters. Rather than voters choosing their representatives, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters. This tends to occur especially when line drawing is left to legislatures and one political party controls the process, as has become increasingly common. When that happens, partisan concerns almost invariably take precedence over all else. Gerrymandering is one reason that only about 10% to 15% of all 435 seats in the US House are competitive, and one of the many reasons that gerrymandering is extremely unpopular with voters.

Electoral districts that are both uncompetitive and skewed in favor of one group produce electoral results are virtually guaranteed and have a real impact on the balance of power in Congress and in many state legislatures. There is no question that such practices are harmful to democracy by creating electoral districts that are deeply unrepresentative, by pre-determining outcomes and by depriving voters of meaningful choices at the polls.

  1. political gerrymandering: the manipulation of electoral districts to favor one party over another. States where one party controls the process often use gerrymandering to maximize their party’s representation. Political gerrymandering characteristically results in a greater number of wasted votes, both for the losing party and for the winning candidate in excess of the number needed to win (an efficiency gap). Political gerrymandering hinders party competition and the resulting increase in safe seats leads to political monopoly and feeds extremism in the majority party. On the state level, political gerrymandering has led to significant partisan bias in maps. For example, in 2018, Democrats in Wisconsin won every statewide office and a majority of the statewide vote but, thanks to gerrymandering, won only 36 of the 99 seats in the state assembly. The widespread practice has led to a number of challenges in the federal courts but no definitive court decisions. The last political gerrymandering case was Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), in which SCOTUS determined that gerrymandering for party advantage could not be challenged in federal court, that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” and therefore it had no constitutional authority to throw out voting maps for being too partisan.

  1. extreme political gerrymandering: a recent term for creating maps in which candidates from only one ideological wing are elected and use the party’s control of the process to lock in an outsized share of seats for an entire decade. Its goal is to lock in control of all of a state’s electoral districts regardless of its share of voters. In the wake of the 2020 Census, state legislators crafted a number of hyper-partisan and discriminatory gerrymanders. It occurs not in deeply red or deeply blue states but in battleground states like Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, that aren’t starkly clustered but that just happened to be controlled by a single party at the time of redistricting. The cities in those states may be fairly to heavily Democratic but they also have a lot of Democrats in suburbs, college towns and rural areas. Given a comparatively even spread of Republicans and Democrats, it matters greatly how new districts are drawn. Extreme political gerrymandering is closely correlated with single-party control of the redistricting process. The lasting and harmful effects of extreme partisan gerrymandering are especially apparent in traditionally purple states, like North Carolina. At a statewide level, North Carolina is a robust democracy with highly contested elections for everything from president to state auditor. But over the last decade, Republicans secured supermajorities in the state legislature, as well as a safe, durable 10–3 advantage in the congressional delegation. Recent studies have found that gerrymandering, pushed to the limit, could exclude the views of half the country from the legislative process, radically reshaping the makeup of Congress and having major implications for the legislation that could be passed.

  1. racial gerrymandering: sorting voters into districts with a predominant focus on race. Previously, voters of color were protected from gerrymandering by the VRA but in the last decade, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the VRA in Shelby v. Holder (2013) and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021). These decisions struck down sections 2 and 5 of the VRA, allowing states with a history of racially discriminatory maps and voting rules to implement new voting laws and maps without federal approval, resulting in new discriminatory practices and restrictive voting laws across the country. The 2021 redistricting cycle was the first one without the full protections of the VRA and many states took advantage of this to implement racially gerrymandered maps.

A state may not use race as the predominant factor in assigning voters to districts in any federal, state or local electoral maps unless it has a compelling reason to do so. If the map drawers do use race without any compelling reason, then the relevant districts are deemed racially gerrymandered. However, federal law establishes that to combat racial gerrymandering and to ensure compliance with the VRA, states may create majority-minority electoral districts.

majority-minority districts: electoral districts in which the majority of the constituents in the district are racial or ethnic minorities. The creation of such districts can avoid racial vote dilution by preventing the submergence of minority voters into the majority, which can deny minority voters the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. But the establishment of majority-minority districts can result in packing, which occurs when a constituency or voting group is placed within a single district, thereby minimizing its influence in other districts. In 2022, there were 136 majority-minority districts in the US House (31% of seats) across 27 states.

[Note: In Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), the Supreme Court said that only racial gerrymandering, but not political gerrymandering, may be challenged in federal court. However, since Black voters overwhelmingly favor Democrats, it may be difficult to distinguish the roles of race and partisanship in drawing electoral maps. That may make it possibly for states to defend racially discriminatory maps on grounds that they were permissibly discriminating against Democrats rather than impermissibly discriminating against voters of color.]

Report card for new Texas electoral district map

d.  In Texas, where the 2011 GOP gerrymander was weakening due to changes in voting patterns such as suburbs trending Democratic, the GOP made a strategic decision to focus on maximizing safety for incumbents rather than expanding their reach. They wiped out most swing districts in the state, making Republican incumbents harder for Democrats to defeat, but the number of districts that voted more for Trump than the national average in 2020 is staying the same. The new map created by the Texas Legislature following the 2020 Census is an example of extreme partisan gerrymandering. The map received an F grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project for giving Republicans a “significant advantage,” as well as an F grade for geographic features because it contains more county splits and “non-compact districts” than typical.


The Campaign Legal Center estimates the map is “more skewed than 78% of past maps” it has analyzed. In 2020, Trump won 52.1% of the vote in Texas. Yet experts predict that Republicans will likely control 63%-66% of the state’s seats in the US House the new map. The map also reduces the number of “highly competitive seats” from 6 to 1. Observers have argued that the new Texas map does not fairly reflect the demographics of the state’s residents and the correlations between race and party in Texas elections take that strategy of political discrimination perilously close to racial discrimination. While white people make up only 40% of the Texas population, they will likely represent 60% of the state’s House districts. Hispanic advocacy organizations have filed two lawsuits to contest the new map, and the DOJ has challenged the new map, arguing it violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of African American and Latino voters in Texas.


Fair Vote

270 To Win

Atlas of US Presidential ElectionsVoting Rights Act of 1965

Electoral College

Presidential  Election

PBS Government & Civics

Frontline Government / Elections / Politics

Projected Congressional Seats by State

A Breathtaking Contempt for the People of Wisconsin

American Democracy Was Never Designed to Be Democratic

The roots of today's authoritarianism come from a 19th century Supreme Court ruling.

How Texas Plans to Make Its House Districts Even Redder

Anatomy of the Texas Gerrymander

Gerrymandering Project: Texas



III. Voting Rules


A. voter registration: All states except North Dakota require voters to register before voting in an election. Most states allow voter registration by mail. Dates, residency requirements and other details vary by state. The Texas requirements can be found here.

B. election day in-person voting: Voting online is not yet allowed in the US. Voters who vote on election day must do so in person. Every state (and some localities) has its own hours and required locations (polling places) for voting, and the type of identification a voter is allowed to bring. The Texas requirements can be found here.

C. early in-person voting: a system or practice by which votes are cast ahead of election day. Most states allow voters to vote in person during a designated early voting period, without requiring an excuse. In some states, voters may need to request an absentee ballot to be able to vote early. The details vary from state to state. The Texas requirements can be found here.

D. absentee voting or voting by mail: allows voters to vote before election day by mail or drop box. Although every state has absentee voting, deadlines and rules on who can take part vary. In most states, voters need to request an absentee ballot to vote in each election. In some states, voters may qualify to receive absentee ballots permanently. State laws vary greatly. The Texas requirements can be found here.



IV. Ballot Rules

A. types of ballots
  1. party column

    1. lists all candidates of a party under the party nameELECTIONS AHEAD SIGN

    2. also called Indiana ballot

    3. more straight ticket voting

    4. voting for candidates who are all from the same party

  2. office block

    1. lists all candidates for an office under the office

    2. also called Massachusetts ballot

    3. more split ticket voting

    4. voting for candidates of different parties for various offices in the same election

  3. hybrid ballot

B. access
  1. independent candidate: petition signed by 1% of number of voters in last governor election

  2. petition signers must be registered voters who did not vote in a primary

  3. write-in candidates: must declare candidacy for votes to count

C. minor parties
  1. between 5% and 19% of vote for statewide office

  2. must hold nominating conventions, but not primary elections

  3. if slip below 5% for statewide office, lose ballot status



V. Modern Campaigns

A. old system

1. local campaigns, limited statewide media

2. tell each county what they want to hear, tailor message to each venue

B. new systemMass Media

1. mass media, same message

2. speak in sound bites

3. campaign ads

a. feel good spots: associate the candidate with good times (family eating together, sun coming up), good times for this state or country are ahead with this candidate in office

b. sainthood: present candidate with his family, ideal father, little league coach, creating the perfect candidate

c. good old boy: Voters identify with the candidate as being one of them. Create a link between candidate and average people. One version is to have average citizens talking in campaign ads about the candidate, not famous people, politicians or celebrities. Other version is when you make candidate seem a little bit more common, to identify them as someone like them, someone who really cares about people.

d. NOOTs (No One's Opposed To This): The candidate takes a courageous stand on an issue (broad not detailed because that's when you start getting opposition). Looks into the camera and tells us he's against crime, in favor of making schools better. (Nobody is against these things.)

e. basher spots: negative campaigning

C. role of consultants

1. sell candidate as a product, package the candidate

2. image and message, not the issues

D. role of the PAC

1. political action committee: common term for a committee set up to raise and spend money to elect and defeat candidates

2. most PACs represent ideological, business or labor interests

3. can’t buy an election

4. can buy access

5. late train financing: post election fund-raising especially if PAC supported loser a game about political money







Useful Websites

History of Campaign Commercials

Museum of the Moving Image

Truth or Fiction

Annenberg Political Fact Check

Project Vote Smart

Texas Election Night Returns


A complete list of candidates as well as all voting rules and regulations … and probably a list of polling places is at





Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   07/10/2024 1230

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