Elazar: State Political Cultures

Daniel Elazar argued that the political culture within states of the United States could be divided into three general types:

  • individualistic political culture, which emphasizes private initiative with a minimum of government interference.  The role of government should be limited to protecting individual rights and ensuring that social and political relationships are based on merit rather than tradition, family ties, or personal connections
  • traditionalistic political culture, which sees the role of government as the preservation of tradition and the existing social order.  Government leadership is in the hands of an established social elite, and the level of participation by ordinary citizens in the policy-making process is relatively low
  • moralistic political culture, in which people expect the government to intervene in the social and economic affairs of the state, promoting the public welfare and advancing the public good.  Participation in political affairs is regarded as one’s civic duty

Elazar attributed the geographic distribution of individualistic, traditionalistic, and moralistic political cultures across states (see Figure 1) to migratory patterns of populations.

Texas = Hybrid

According to Elazar, Texas has a hybrid political culture that includes both traditionalistic and individualistic elements.

Traditionalistic Characteristics

  1. Long history as a one-party state
  2. Low levels of voter turnout
  3. Social and economic conservativism

Individualistic Characteristics

  1. Strong support for private business
  2. Opposition to big government
  3. Faith in individual initiative

The structure, powers, and functions of our state government, both as outlined in the Texas Constitution of 1876 and in practice, reflect our state political culture.  Political culture also shapes the context within which politics occurs, which influences things like what political parties and organized interests look like and what roles political parties, organized interests, and citizens take on when it comes to campaigns, elections, and policy-making.

“Taken together,  individualism and traditionalism make Texas a politically conservative state, hostile to government activity, especially government interference in the economy . . . However, while individualism and traditionalism generally reinforce a conservative political environment, they can also exist in uncomfortable tension with one another.  For whereas the individualistic thread in Texas culture stresses individual freedom from government intrusion, the traditionalistic thread can foster the government’s promotion of particular moral values upon those very same individuals.” (Roots of Texas Politics, n.d.)