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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 one of four categories based on how knowledgeable they are about politics and 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.

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

  1. current registration laws

    1. citizen: immigrants in Texas cannot vote

    2. 18 years old

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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. traditional/individual culture

  6. 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

  1. 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

  2. Non-Membership Organizations

    1. individual businesses not part of a membership organization

  3. Local Governments

  4. 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

  1. 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

  2. electioneering

    1. donate $ to campaign

    2. media strategy (TV ads, newspaper ads)

    3. raise $ for candidates

    4. campaign volunteers

  3. 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

  1. Money: oil and gas industry

  2. Membership: strength in numbers, teachers

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

  4. Distribution across state

    1. wide distribution: strong

    2. narrow or limited distribution: weaker



IV. Comparing Interest Group Power Across States

  1. economic diversity

    1. more diverse economy: more groups, less influence

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

  2. party strength

    1. weak two-party competition: strong groups

    2. strong two-party system: weak groups

  3. 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

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  1. 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

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

    2. Libertarians (1990s)

    3. Ross Perot



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

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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. Ballot Rules

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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



II. Primary Elections

for parties receiving at least 20% of vote for statewide office

  1. types of primaries
    1. open

    2. closed: Texas primaries are classified as closed where the voter signifies party membership by voting in a primary

    3. nonpartisan

    4. blanket

  2. open vs. closed primaries
    1. raiding or crossover voting more common in open primary

  3. runoff primary
    1. mostly in south, vestige of one-party Democratic rule

    2. no crossover voting from primary to runoff primary

    3. for a primary nomination in TX, candidate must receive majority of popular vote



III. General Elections

Other than those things stated in the US Constitution regarding federal elections (date), states have control over the administration of general elections, including those for federal offices.

  1. drawing legislative districts

    1. reapportionment

    2. redistricting

    3. malapportionment: rural areas overrepresented in House and small states overrepresented in Senate

    4. Baker vs. Carr: one man, one vote

    5. Reynolds vs. Sims: applies Baker decision to both houses of legislature

    6. majority-minority districts

    7. gerrymandering

a. party-based: easier to do

b. race-based: more difficult constitutionally

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.



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



IV. Miscellaneous

  1. 1965 Voting Rights Act

    1. preclearance

    2. Spanish ballots for areas with more than 20% Spanish speakers

  2. absentee ballot: soldiers mostly

  3. early voting 22 days before election, open to all voters

  4. upper-class bias in early voting?



V. Modern Campaigns

A. old system

1. local campaigns, limited statewide media

2. tell each county what they want to hear, suit 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


There are two electoral processes that occur in the US. The primary process is the stage at which the members of a political party decide which candidate will represent the party in the general election. In other words, all Republicans will decide which one Republican gets to run for each office. Today, the primary process is usually, but not always, conducted through elections. Originally, most states used a primary caucus, a meeting of the party’s leadership. The leadership then decided which candidates would represent the party. Many states eventually used a more inclusive method, the primary convention. In a convention method, party members choose delegates to represent them at a convention. Those delegates then choose the party’s candidates at convention. A few states still use some variation of the caucus or convention method. All states still use the convention to make party decisions. Too, this is how both major parties pick their party’s nominee for president.

Most states, however, have begun to use primary elections. Filing fees charged to the candidates pay for primary elections. These fees are subsidized by state funds. The administration of elections in Texas is the direct responsibility of the county. Primary elections have a number of characteristics that separate them from primary caucuses and conventions. Primary elections test a candidate’s popularity and his ability to organize early, but they do not test his ability to serve well if elected. Primary elections are lengthy. Only candidates who can afford to spend a lot of money and to not work are able to run for office. Primary elections have brought about an increased reliance on the media. Candidates who must reach not simply party leaders or convention delegates but the entire population from which they are being elected, have to turn to the media to get their message out. A candidate who is seeking statewide office in Texas is most likely to rely heavily on media advertising.

Primary elections have contributed to the rising importance of activists. For better or worse, ideologically extreme voters turn out for primary elections in much higher numbers than other voters. That means that ideologically extreme candidates can win the primary, but they can't win the general election. Or, if both parties offer ideologically extreme candidates in the general election, voters turn away from both candidates and from voting altogether. In the general population, conservatives support things such as the reduction or elimination of the graduated income tax, while liberals would support policies that protect women, gays and minorities. In the primaries, however, very extreme ideological positions are normal.

Finally, primary elections weaken the role of the party. Anyone can declare his candidacy in a party’s primary. This means that parties are often stuck with candidates with whom they do not agree or candidates they do not like. In recent years, the Democrats have been saddled with Linden LaRouche and the Republicans with David Duke.

The actual conduct of primary elections varies widely from state to state. There are, however, three basic types of primary elections. Closed primaries are most frequently used since they offer the parties the most control. Open primary elections allow broader choices for voters. The most voter-controlled primary is the blanket, or free love, primary. This is an excellent primary for offering voters a wide range of choices – which is precisely why parties dislike them. For complete definitions of these primaries, refer to your text. The Texas primary election is classified as a closed primary where the voter signifies party membership by voting in the primary.

Once parties have chosen their candidates, the general election is held to determine which candidate will hold the office. Unlike primaries, which are controlled by each state, federal law governs general elections. That means that the general election is held in the same way on the same day throughout the country. The general election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even numbered years. Only a plurality (the most votes) is needed to win. That is why officeholders can be elected with only thirty-five percent of the votes, for example. It only takes one more vote to win a general election. (By contrast, in Texas you must get at least fifty percent of the vote (a simple majority) in order to win a primary election – thus often leading to primary runoffs.)








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:   11/15/2023 2030

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