Why is Texas politically conservative?Texas was a rural state until recently, with the dual characters of a former confederate agricultural state & a western ranching state. That breeds conservatism all the way around.
I think that Texas in the 2010s is what California was in the 1970s-early 80s.
Orange county, California used to be the intellectual heartland of conservatism. The state had braggadocio governors who said it was the state of the future. The state as a whole produced 2 republican presidents - Nixon and Reagan. It was an economic powerhouse and it seemed that everyone wanted to move there because that's where the jobs were. The state's pragmatic conservatism must be what made it economically successful. In the 9 elections between 1952 and 1988, democrats only won there once, in the 1964 landslide for LBJ. Sure, it had crazy-liberal hippie land San Francisco, but the sensible parts of the state always won.
Then in 1992 something went wrong. All the immigrants that had moved to the state started to change its electoral character. Southern California was no longer as reliably republican as it once was. But maybe it was Ross Perot who screwed everything up and allowed Bill Clinton to win pluralities, so George W. Bush still made a push for CA in 2000, perhaps thinking he could win it like his father had in 1988.
No. In 2000, Al Gore handily defeated George W. Bush in CA by 12 points. Bush was now losing the once republican Bay-area exurbs, losing Los Angeles county by 30 points (the elder Bush had only lost it by 5 points while winning the state), and breaking even in the crucial past republican strongholds of southern cal.
Fast forward to 2008 and 2012, and Barack Obama wins all regions of the state except the more rural Shasta cascades, Gold country, and the very rural parts of the Desert region. Obama even won San Diego, San Bernadino, and Riverside counties, something no democrat had done in decades.
I'll give you one reason why that occurred. Look at the percentage of whites in California, according to the census:
I was born and raised in Texas, and lived most of my adult life here. My parents were solidly Democrats when they were known as "Southern Democrats"- a considerable portion of the Democratic Party. Why? Because their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were Southern Democrats. My ancestors, no matter which line you trace, came from one of the former states of the Confederacy and moved here in the aftermath of the Civil War.
It was the Republican Party that ran Congress and the federal government (including good men like Abraham Lincoln but whom they were not exactly in love with!). Today, we have a hard time understanding the bitterness and hatred that were the legacy of the Civil War. An entire way of life based on slavery, which admittedly was nothing to be proud of, was destroyed. It was not just the big plantation owners who had slaves; it was also the smaller farmers, like those in my family. I wish I did not have this legacy, because I hate the very idea of slavery, and it's aftermath - discrimination. But historically, this is the harsh fact that one must understand in order to understand what happened in the South, and particularly in Texas.
Since the North was pretty much run by Republicans, the Southerners mostly became Democrats of necessity. They certainly had no chance of influence within the Republican Party in the South. That tradition and the reasons behind it were passed from generation to generation and stayed that way up until things began to change in the 70s. They were not proud of LBJ, who was one of the most corrupt but competent politicians ever to come out of Texas. And there was still a lot of prejudice here against Blacks and Latinos (broadly all considered Mexicans by the average white person in Texas that I grew up with).
So, LBJ's implementation of the Kennedy civil rights agenda, made possible by his sweeping mandate and support after the assassination of the Kennedys, felt like a betrayal to most Southern Democrats. LBJ and the civil rights laws were the trigger that mortally wounded the southern Democratic Party, especially in Texas.
I was just a teen at the time and not politically astute, but I noted and remember the comments of my adult relatives during that time. That covers a pretty representative sample of middle class, working class Texans - from aircraft workers to farmers to truck drivers to factory workers. And not just my own relatives, but the relatives of nearly everyone I knew. They all pretty much had the same heritage. I remember playing games as a kid in which we were still "Rebels" fighting those "damn Yankees" from the North. We were as likely to play that game as we were to play as American GI's killing Nazi's and Japs. (Please excuse the racist labels but that's how we thought in my lower middle class culture.) To us, there was no discernable difference between the bad guys (Yankees, Nazi'x and Japs), while the "good guys" were Confederate Rebels and American GIs.
How did I escape those prejudices? Because my best friend growing up was a full-blooded Comanche Indian with a Mexican name - Ruiz, and he was routinely attacked by white boys for nothing more than his name and color. I stood back to back with him and we fought together, often outnumbered 3 or 4 to 1. And furthermore, my mother's family told stories over and over again of being called "dirty little half-breeds" because they were part Cherokee Indian. Those stories sunk into my consciousness and caused me to be against discrimination, bigotry, hate, and racism. That conviction was a solid part of me by the time I was 16, though at the same time, my family was solidly Southern Democrats and themselves guilty of some degree of that same prejudice against Blacks and Mexicans (if you were Latino, you were a Mexican back then; we didn't bother to differentiate). Yes, I played the games as a kid in the 50s, but by the time the 60s arrived, I was a typical Texas conservative but one with strong views promoting equality, civil rights, and equal opportunity. I worked my way through college, with my freshman year at UT Arlington and my last three years and graduation from a religious college in Utah that tolerated no prejudice, racism, or bigotry. They embraced totally Jesus Christ's acceptance of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples as equals and children of Our Heavenly Father.
But back to my family's roots and how they were handed down to my generation - the first of the baby boomers. After the Civil War, in the South, federal troops kept carpetbaggers in power and allowed them to steal and legally confiscate what was left of the property of most former Confederate soldiers. Besides carpetbaggers there were federal officials in charge who were still intent on punishing the former confederates. I'm not talking former plantation owners here; I mean the rank and file confederate soldier who was probably a farmer before the Civil War, but whose farm fell into ruins while they were away fighting.
It was a useless and stupid war for the South to fight in the first place, born of prejudice and an economic system based on slavery. it deserved to fall and I'm glad the North won. But Abraham Lincoln's death was also the death of opportunity and reconciliation for most southerners. Those that took over, from President Grant down to the local tax collector. were mostly corrupt and had no more concern for former black slaves than they did for the white ex-confederates they were now looking to either punish or strip of any opportunity or ownership of land. Virtually every branch of my family moved during the post-Civil War years to Texas, with a few ending up in Arkansas and Oklahoma. They were trying to get as far away as they could from venal federal army commanders and thieving carpetbaggers. And Texas was a big place, with a lot of unsettled, cheap land. They could come here and still have enough of civilization to give them a chance to begin anew and earn a living for their families, perhaps even become wealthy.
They hacked a living out of a harsh environment, largely having to survive by hard, hard work and stubborn independence. They became conservative because their lives in that era forced them to focus on keeping their property from being scooped up by the carpetbaggers who did manage to get to Texas, but which was not their primary objective because there was less to steal. My ancestors fought Indians (which is not to say the Indians, some of which were also my ancestors through inter-marriage, did not have good cause to try to protect their way of life as much as the ex-confederates were trying to carve out a life when their old ones had been confiscated or made impossible to tolerate). They fought outlaws, Indians, carpetbaggers, corrupt federal officials occupying some posts in Texas, the harsh landscape, and a dearth of money (most survived by bargaining, and there were relatively few banks, which they did not trust anyway because they were owned mostly by former Yankees, many of whom were corrupt and intent on taking as much of the "spoils of war" as they could. They didn't trust government and learned to rely on themselves. Those that couldn't pull their weight were weeded out just by the harshness of survival.
As noted above, these values were passed down from generation to generation. When I returned to Texas in 1971, it was still solidly Democratic. But I was soon working for a PR firm that handled political campaigns, and I saw what went on from the inside. I worked hard at organizing and writing radio and TV and newspaper ads to sway the voting public. It was still a hard road to change generations of thinking, but LBJ had started the process. I helped elect the first Republican to the Texas Senate since Reconstruction, and the first woman from our county to ever serve in the Texas Senate. As part of my job, I also had the opportunity to help Blacks who felt they were being promised a lot but given very little by the Democratic Party. We supported a slate of Black candidates (some on the Democratic ticket and some on the Republican) and succeeded in getting one Black Democratic candidate into a runoff election with the white, establishment Democratic choice. But when the Democrats saw we could win, they approached our candidate with offers of massive donor support, and he turned his campaign over to their management, despite our warnings that proved to be true when he lost. But the next election, we helped him become the first Black candidate to win election to the Texas House from our county since reconstruction. We also supported a very strong Black leader in his bid for a City Council seat in Fort Worth. He won time and time again.
I relate this because it shows you some of the reasons Texans were starting to defect from the Democratic Party. We conservatives that were Republicans found we had much in common with the conservatives that were Democrats. Black or White, what was important was those societal and cultural values that had been handed down from generation to generation in Texas after the Civil War. Texas was no doubt largely racist at the time, but many of my generation were beginning to embrace a more liberal view of civil rights, because the cultural values were more conservative than they were tied to any particular party. For us, the Civil War was ancient history, and while we still reflected many of the conservative values of our Texas pioneer ancestors, handed down by our parents and grandparents, it was less and less associated with the direction of the more liberal Northern States, and those on the East and West Coasts. Many Texas supported Nixon (though that turned out to be a fiasco) and then George Bush, Sr. for president. By the time Bush came along, the political party labels had changed and Texas became a mostly Republican state, but more because of its conservative traditions handed down by our post-Civil War ancestors and our pioneer ancestors who tamed a "wild and wooley" land. With the oil boom and significant power in Congress, the economy in Texas flourished. So, the state became more affluent, but their roots remained the same.
Today, the majority of Texans, mostly those whose ancestry traces back along the lines of mine, are conservative. Though there has been a huge influx of people from other states that have kept liberalism alive. Today, you can't count on Texas to be solidly in either the Democrat or Republican Party camp. The vote can swing easily because the liberal base has grown by the influx of others from outside the south, and because younger generations of Texans have embraced many liberal goals and ideals. Add to that the very large population of Hispanics and Blacks, that are probably more conservative than their ethnic counterparts in other states, but still more liberal than the "conservative heritage" Texan, and you have a state that can swing either way. I think it is incorrect to say that most Texans are conservatives. I think it's about evenly divided now. I, personally, gave up my affiliation with the Republican Party after Ronald Reagan, and have been an independent voter. Most of my friends and relatives are of the same mindset. We tend to look now at the candidate, not so much his or her party. I see that as a sign of maturity and the now dying embers of old divisions of a war long past, and of racism that is gasping its last breath. My children and grandchildren resist any labels of conservative or liberal. We like the idea of being independent. That part survives and I don't think it is likely to change for quite awhile.
First of all, Texas isn't all that conservative, relatively-speaking. In 2008 and/or 2012, a greater percentage of Texans (41 to nearly 44%) voted for Obama than did citizens of about 15 other states, several of which were won by Bill Clinton at least once. Among "red states," the only ones that voted for Obama to a greater degree in both contests were three of the top five African-American states (MS, GA, and SC), increasingly hispanic AZ, and three states that in 2008 temporarily turned purple: IN, which Obama won with the aid of a spoiler, and MO and MT, which he lost by just a few thousand votes each. So Texas is, yes, a red state, but less so than most of them.
To the extent Texas is more conservative than liberal, though, there are several reasons:
1. (The Eastern and most of the Northern part of) Texas was initially settled on a large scale by people from the Deep South, whose economic and cultural identity was founded upon the subjugation of African slaves and their descendants, and Appalachia, which was settled by contentious "Scotch-Irish" (the pushed-around Scottish-English borderlanders who now identify their ethnicity as "American") peoples who for historical reasons deeply resented the imposition of any outside authority. These peoples, and the war they fought against Mexicans, defined the original politically "conservative" core culture of Texas. Still, the Appalachians' influence was sufficient for the state to support the little guy (i.e. vote Democratic) for much of the first half or even 2/3 (3/4?) of the 20th century - Texas voted for the more liberal candidate in all but three Presidential elections between 1912 and 1964 (voting more conservative only for a war hero and against a New Yorker), barely in three-way '68, and again (for a Southerner) in '76. That changed when...
2. Texas' population substantially expanded in the mid-20th century, more than doubling between 1940 and 1980. This was a result in part of the great American migration following the advent of automotive/jet travel and air-conditioning among other advances, in which Americans started spreading South and West across the country in increasingly large numbers. These newcomers were disproportionately older, whiter, wealthier, and exurban. Combined with the culture wars of the '60s and increasing appeals to racial animus on the part of the Republican party, Texas started turning more conservative. It remained a swing state, however, until 1980 and the advent of...
3. Ronald Reagan, a (Hollywood) cowboy tailor-made for Texas' self-image turned the state deep red with the aid of a (sort of) Texan oilman as his running mate. The oilman or his more native/cowboy-playinig son went on to win three of the next five elections, losing the fourth in which the father ran (and the fifth in which he didn't) with the aid of a Texan spoiler. But the Bushes are (at least temporarily) gone now and yet Texas has remained fairly solidly Republican in the past two contests, as well as at the Senatorial and Gubernatorial levels, where it's turned increasingly conservative after electing Democrats like Lloyd Bentsen and Ann Richards or more "moderate" Republicans like Kay Bailey Hutchison. What accounts for the change? In part, it's the influence of the almost religious fundamentalist belief in free-market deregulation that Reagan managed to sell to half the country, which took only too well in a state where the economy is based first on (government-subsidized) resource extraction without the requirement to internalize the costs thereof (Texas is the Saudi Arabia of America). But perhaps more importantly...
4. Texas' hispanic population has exploded even more than its general population, by percentage. Since 1980, the US hispanic population has nearly quadrupled, and of course a lot of that happened in Texas, nearly 40% of which is now hispanic, more than any other state except New Mexico (and tied with California). One would of course expect that to benefit Democrats, not Republicans. However, not all of the hispanics are citizens, and not all of the citizens are registered voters (nor are all of the registered hispanics Democrats). More importantly, that big demographic change has produced more racism and other sorts of fears on the part of the native white population, pushing it further to the right. Of course, the same thing's happened in some parts of California (which Reagan won twice and Bush Sr. once), and you don't see that state going anywhere near purple these days, while other Southwestern states like Nevada and Colorado have flipped blue as a result of hispanic immigration. So what makes Texas different?
5. Texas is the largest state by area in America other than Alaska, nearly twice the size of California, but home to only 2/3 the people. Ergo, Texas is nearly three times as rural, ~20% to California's ~7 (and Nevada's 12 and Colorado's 18; New Mexico is 27% rural, but more than 45% hispanic). With the parties breaking down over the last two decades into urban vs. rural proxies fighting for the suburbs (with the GOP increasingly losing them), Texas has joined the rural states firmly on the red side.
To be sure, Texas is still home to two of the ten largest cities in America - Dallas and Houston - which are quickly getting larger, but their position on the list is much newer than the even larger two in California, where urban values and superior educational institutions and other sources of sophistication have held sway for much longer. A century ago, Dallas was home to just 90,000 people, Houston 80,000, and Fort Worth 75,000; you could fit each of them into a large football stadium. Greater LA, then as now, was home to 50% more people than all of them put together, at least 370,000, while the San Francisco area was home to at least 600,000.
It was also about a century ago that Houston's Rice University, an excellent institution or nearly-so (#18 undergraduate per US News) but a rather small one (only about 6500 students total), and Dallas' Southern Methodist (#60, 12,000 students) were founded, around the same time that older #82 Texas Christian University (10,000 students) returned from Waco to cow-town Fort Worth, but it was two decades earlier that #5 Stanford University (part of the SF Combined Metro Area, and home to 16,000 students) and #10 Cal-Tech (2200) were founded, and #20 the University of California at Berkeley (36,000 students) and #23 University of Southern California (38,000 students) are each a decade older still (tied-for-#23 UCLA (42,000 students) is a few years younger than the Texas schools). Austin, of course, is home to $52 the University of Texas-Austin (51,000 students), as old as the California schools, but it is a much smaller city, only the 35th-largest metro in America, smaller than San Jose or Sacramento.
Universities are just one factor, of course, an example. Perhaps more important is the different kinds of cities the Texan ones are compared to those in California. Dallas(/Arlington)/Fort Worth and Houston are not traditional cities in the sense of SF or even car-centric LA. Without the natural boundaries of the Pacific Ocean, SF Bay, and the various hills/mountains surrounding LA, the Texan cities have sprawled ever outward without restriction, making them less dense and therefore urban places, lacking the sort of ferment in their central core(s) that you find especially in the big older cities of the Northeast and Great Lakes. That density forces people to acknowledge and defer to one another as fellow human beings, however different in appearance or belief they may be. Result? Tolerance, a lack of selfishness, and a sense of community; that is, liberalism. Compared to real cities, those in Texas are really just big suburbs where people drive home at night if they enter the core at all (again, nightlife-heavy Austin is an exception because it is home to a huge university, as well as the State government; accordingly, it's also more liberal). Of course, that's changing in this increasingly urban era - both Dallas and Houston (but not Fort Worth) are now Democratic in their urban cores and simultaneously starting to become more interesting places to live (Houston especially), a trend I expect to continue. But the pace of change is much slower in places where the urban core is being built for the first time rather than repopulated.
And rate of change is just as important statewide. Texas is not just the second-biggest state in area, it's the second-largest in population as well, five times the size of Colorado, ten times the size of Nevada, and closer to 15 times the size of New Mexico. So while an increasingly cosmopolitan and diverse Texas should eventually join these Southwestern states in turning purple if not blue (Arizona may go first), it's going to take longer, perhaps much longer.
Then again, you never know. It's possible that having had an African-American urbanite represent the Democrats in the past two contests and a Republican and/or Independent Texan on the ballot in the previous six has masked the Democrats' true potential in the State. I doubt even Hillary Clinton (plus Julian Castro?) would win the state in 2016, but I think she(/they) could pull 45-47(-48)%. The prospect of Democrats' taking such a huge electoral college prize away from Republicans of course scares the latter shitless; it could very well spell the end of their party. That's why the smart people in the GOP (including Jeb Bush, who you may see on their next ticket) are so concerned about increasing the party's appeal to hispanic voters, and why its more unprincipled characters have rapidly sought to enact as many statewide voter restrictions - "Jose Crow," as it were - as they can.
Actually to be truthful, most texans are not that politically conservative, in fact they are more left than right.
It's really not all that conservative.
A solid, hardcore Republican Texas is just another big myth about America. And another great reason to scrap the Electoral College - so that Americans will have a more accurate, less divisive picture of where political sympathies lie.
Now admittedly, the demographics of Texas are changing. But look at the 2016 presidential results in some major Texas cities. Even Dallas, which gets stereotyped far and wide for being rock-solid conservative, didn't exactly flock to Donald Trump.
Check out the numbers: