What Makes Texas, Texas? Political Culture in the Lone Star State

“[Texas] is America on steroids. Think of the characteristics that make America distinctive–its size and diversity, its optimism and self-confidence, its crass materialism and bravado, its incredible ability to make something out of nothing–and they exist in their purest form in Texas.” The Future is – Texas; Texas, 2002


Individualism is the belief that individuals are responsible for their own welfare.  Individuals are encouraged to have initiative and work hard to become successful in society.  Through the lens of individualism, what is good for society is based on what is good for individuals, and “[g]overnment activity is encouraged only to the extent that it creates opportunity for individual achievement” (Roots of Texas Politics, n.d.).  Individualism helps to explain the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality of many Texans.  Texas’s individualism is rooted in the state’s frontier heritage.


Traditionalism refers to upholding or maintaining tradition, particularly in resistance to change.  Under traditionalism, the government is viewed as a mechanism through which the existing social order can be preserved; in other words, government action should reinforce the power of society’s dominant groups.  Traditionalism, “emphasizing deference to elite rule within a hierarchical society and traditional moral values, represents the values of 19th century Southerners who migrated to the rich cotton land of East Texas”(Roots of Texas Politics, n.d.).

Limited Government

Closely associated with individualism is the belief that the government must be limited in its power and responsibilities.  The belief in limited government is associated with concerns that a powerful government is likely to threaten individual rights.  The structure of Texas’s government as outlined in the Texas Constitution of 1876 screams limited government.  The belief in limited government is a key component of U.S. political culture that developed out of concerns that a powerful government is likely to threaten individual rights, and Anglo-American settlers brought this belief in limited government with them as they colonized Texas during the time of empresarios following the ratification of the Adams-Onís Treaty in 1819.  During the early 1800s, there were also many Mexican citizens who also favored limited government known as the federalistas.  Texas’s experience as an occupied military district under Governor Davis during Radical Reconstruction solidified limited government as a cornerstone of Texas political culture.

Private Property, Free Enterprise, and Entrepreneurialism

Private property (the ownership of property by private parties), free enterprise (an economic system in which private business competes in a market largely free of state control), and entrepreneurialism (the ability to start new businesses) are all fundamental to capitalism – and Texas is known for its ardent support of limited government regulations and free markets.  As with the belief in limited government, these beliefs are rooted in Texas’s experiences as a territory of Spain and, later, Mexico and the influence of Anglo-American settlers.

Popular Sovereignty

Popular sovereignty is the belief that the ultimate authority in society rests with the people.  Each person has sovereignty over themselves.  People may delegate some of their sovereign powers to the government, which in turn is required to serve according to the will of the people.  In Texas, popular sovereignty stemmed in large part from dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of representation as a territory of Mexico due to 1) being combined with Coahuila, which was more densely populated and, as such, able to disregard Texans’ interests, 2) the rise of centralistas (think Antonio López de Santa Anna) who favored the concentration of government authority in the national government, and 3) the influence of the United States.

Freedom and personal liberty

Freedom and personal liberty refer to the freedom to engage in a variety of practices without governmental interference and discrimination; as such, it is closely related to belief in limited government.  The values of freedom and personal liberty are reflected in the protection of various civil liberties (freedom of speech; right to bear arms; etc.), the promotion of economic freedom, and the emphasis of the rights of citizenship over its obligations.  Freedom and personal liberty are closely related to limited government, popular sovereignty, and natural rights (the belief that people are born with rights that cannot be taken away by the government without their consent).


Despite its flaws, Texas “has an enthusiasm for openness . . . [and] is enthusiastically mixing all sorts of cultures — from the South, south-west and the other side of the border — into a distinctive blend” (The Future is – Texas; Texas, n.d.) that can be seen in our state’s music, art, and food [Tex-Mex!].  Texas has always had a certain level of openness due to the state’s export-based economy and a diverse population consisting of different groups of people with their own distinctive cultures (including indigenous tribes, Spaniards, French, Tejanos, Anglo-Americans, Texians, African Americans, Irish, Germans,  Czech).  Texas remains a diverse state in terms of race and ethnicity.


Populism refers to the hostility of common people toward concentrated political and economic power and the powerful.  It is often portrayed as “the people” versus “the elite.”  Texas’s populist tendencies are rooted in the belief that “government power should be used to protect individuals from exploitation by powerful corporations, excessive wealth, or government itself” (Roots of Texas Politics, n.d.).

State Pride

The United States is a patriotic country.  Patriotism refers to the love of one’s country and respect for its symbols and principles.  Patriotism helps unify people in their recognition of the authority of governance.  In the U.S., however, there are a handful of states with extremely strong state pride – and Texas is one of them, alongside states such as Ohio, New Mexico, Alaska, Maine, Montana, and Colorado.  State pride in Texas is so strong that there’s even a Wikipedia page about it!  Our strong state pride is the byproduct of our state’s history – not every state can say it was once an independent country, after all.

Our Differences: Less Significant than Our Similarities

If you watch the news or pay attention to what is going on in Washington, D.C., it may seem as though our country is more divided than ever.  This division at the national level results in large part from the fact that the Democratic Party, which is ideologically liberal, is becoming more liberal as a whole, while the Republican Party, which is ideologically conservative, is becoming more conservative as a whole, causing the two parties to move further apart on the ideological spectrum (a phenomenon called polarization).

When it comes to Texas, however, this phenomenon is not as pervasive.  The Democratic Party of Texas is not the same thing as the Democratic Party in national government, nor is the Republican Party of Texas identical to the Republican Party in national government.  In Texas, the political differences between Democrats and Republicans, between immigrants or naturalized citizens and native-born citizens, and between rural and urban residents exist, “but they’re not as galvanizing in Texas as they are across the national level . . . Texas is unique, and Texans share really strong identities, even across those demographics” (Christiana Lang, as quoted by Ramsey, 2021).

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