Regulating Interest Groups

In the U.S., there are various federal and state laws designed to regulate interest groups, including laws that:

  • prevent lawmakers from lobbying the government on behalf of interest groups immediately after leaving public office (these are called revolving door laws)
  • require disclosure of spending on lobbying activities
  • restrict lobbyists from providing gifts to lawmakers
  • prevent interest groups from giving lobbyists an extra commission when they are successful in their lobbying efforts

Texas’s efforts to regulate organized interests began during the 1970s with the passage of the Lobbyist Registration Act, which sought to identify those who were attempting to influence legislation on behalf of client groups.  In the 1990s, the Texas Ethics Commission was created to monitor the activities of interest groups and lobbyists.  Interest groups and lobbyists must register with the Texas Ethics Commission if they:

  • receive at least $1000 in a calendar quarter (three month period) for engaging in communications with legislative or executive branch members, or 
  • spend more than $500 in a calendar quarter on communications aimed at influencing public policy (communications refers to a broad range of activities, including providing foods, beverages, gifts, and awards, fundraising, or mass media advertising)

Texas’s lobbying law, as outlined in Chapter 305 of the Government Code, regulates registered lobbyists’ direct communications to members of the Texas legislature or plural executive (direct communications from lobbyists to judges and local government officials may be regulated by other laws) and requires registered lobbyists to report lobbying expenditures relating to transportation and lodging, food and beverages, entertainment, awards and mementos, gifts other than awards and mementos, expenditures made for the attendance of a state official at a political fundraiser or charity event, and mass media (Texas Ethics Commission, Lobbying in Texas).  There are also laws in place that regulate political campaign contributions from lobbyists and interest groups and place restrictions on gifts to government officials working within the Texas legislature or state agencies (including public universities).

Ethics reform concerning lobbying continues to be an area of concern.  In 2015, Texas received a D- grade in the State Integrity Investigation.  Governor Abbott “made it clear during his campaign for governor that he would push for stronger laws to eliminate conflicts of interest and restore trust in the oft-maligned Legislature”, and, by identifying ethics reform as an emergency legislation item in 2015 and 2017, moved the issue “front and center [making] Abbott the first governor since Ann Richards, in the early 1990s, to put such an intense focus on the issue” (Root, 2015).  In 2015, “ethics reform imploded in the last few days of the session” (Root, April 2017).  In 2017, the broad ethics reform laws were passed:

“Elected officials who commit felonies while abusing their office will lose their public pensions. State officers and politicians who make money from government contracts will finally have to reveal their relationships. And lawmakers who leave the Legislature with fat campaign accounts will be restricted from using the cash to prop themselves up as lobbyists.” (Root, June 2017

In 2019, additional ethics reforms were passed that “impose new restrictions on lobbyists that relate to making political contributions or using political contributions to make political contributions or political expenditures” (Texas Ethics Commission, Lobbying in Texas).

There are several areas in which ethics reform has failed.  One such area relates to revolving door laws.  In federal government and many states, a “cooling off” period exists during which a former government official must wait a designated time after leaving public office before being able to accept a position as a lobbyist.  Texas’s revolving door laws place cooling off periods on “former board members, officers, and employees of certain agencies in the executive branch of state government” — there are no such restrictions on former state legislators or judges, however (Texas Ethics Commission, Revolving Door).

Interest Group-Political Party Alliances

Although interest groups and political parties exist separately from one another, they do interact.

Interest groups assist political parties by providing campaign funds and organizational support to party candidates, endorsing candidates and distributing campaign literature, and providing lobbying support for policies the party favors.  Political parties, in turn, reward interest group allies by incorporating public policy platforms and adopting public policies that benefit these interest groups and the cause or issue they support.

Interest Groups Allied with the Democratic Party

  • Organized labor
  • Environmental organizations
  • Consumer groups
  • African-American rights organizations
  • Hispanic rights groups
  • LGBTQ+ rights groups
  • Teachers’ groups
  • Trial lawyers
  • Women rights groups

Interest Groups Allied with the Republican Party

  • Business groups and trade organizations
  • Most professional organizations (including doctors and realtors)
  • Farm/agricultural groups
  • Religious conservatives
  • National Rifle Association
  • Right to Life advocates
  • Tort reform organizations

Interest Groups in Texas

“Interest groups tend to have greater influence in states where political parties are comparatively weaker. ” – “Interest Groups”, Texas Government 1.0

Due to the structural characteristics of our state government (which consists of a biennial legislature and a plural executive) and a lack of campaign finance regulations on most interest groups in Texas, interest groups in Texas are one of the most powerful political forces in the state’s legislative process.  They provide information to our state legislators, which is a valuable resource considering the time constraints and small legislative staff sizes.  They also play a heavy role in campaign financing in state elections.  Finally, they educate and mobilize individuals.

Some interest groups in Texas are highly centralized, concentrating decision-making at or near the top of the group’s structure and exercising leadership through a small group at that level (such as the Texas Community College Teachers Association).  Other interest groups in Texas have a decentralized internal structure, with decision-making and leadership widely dispersed among the membership (such as a Chamber of Commerce).  There are also amorphous interest groups in the state of Texas.  Amorphous interest groups lack any organizational structure and are comprised of a loose connection of individuals who only occasionally act as a group (such as welfare recipients).

“Texas’ individualistic and business-oriented culture leads to wide agreement among observers that interest groups representing business interests are the strongest in Texas” (Texas Government 1.0).  Indeed, the five biggest lobbying teams in Texas leading up to the 2015 Texas legislative session represented business interests.

Interest Groups: The Basics

Interest groups, like political parties, are groups of people who share similar interests, ideas, and/or beliefs.  Both political parties and interest groups monitor government activity, facilitate political participation, and work to create and implement government policies.

Interest groups differ notably from political parties, however.  Political parties have a broad agenda and encompass large segments of the population, whereas interest groups are more narrowly focused, generally organized around support of a specific issue or set of issues.  Furthermore, political parties focus primarily on winning elections to run the government and create certain policy outcomes, while interest groups try to increase awareness within the public and influence the behavior of political decision-makers to shape public policy.

Types of Interest Groups

Public Interests vs. Private Interests

Some interest groups are concerned with public interests, or interests that are connected in one way or another to the general welfare of the community.  These groups serve as advocates for a cause or an ideology.  Other interest groups are concerned with private interests that are associated with benefits for some fraction of the community.  These groups protect or advance the material interests of their members.


Most interest groups fall into one of four categories, depending on what their membership looks like:

  1. Membership organizations, which individuals join voluntarily and to which they usually pay dues (example: National Rifle Association)
  2. Interest groups representing companies, corporate organizations, and governments; to represent their interests, corporations may hire in-house lobbyists and/or contract lobbyists, and governments and government agencies may hire legislative liaisons
  3. Associations, which are usually groups of institutions that join with others who have a similar concern, often within the same trade or industry
  4. Volunteer or amateur lobbyists, which include citizens (sometimes referred to as “hobbyists”) who lobby for pet projects related to some issue or cause that they support

How Interest Groups Work

Interest groups go about conveying their views on issues and influencing government in two different ways: the inside game and the outside game.

Inside Game (“Direct Lobbying”)

The inside game refers to contacting and taking the organization’s message directly to lawmakers in an attempt to influence policy.  Examples include:

  1. Lobbying the U.S. Congress/Texas legislature
  2. Lobbying the U.S. cabinet and bureaucracy/Texas plural executive and bureaucracy
  3. Lobbying the courts (i.e., filing amicus curiae briefs in federal courts)

Outside Game (“Indirect lobbying”)

The outside game refers to taking the organization’s message to the public (usually via the media) in hopes that the public will then put pressure on lawmakers.  Examples include:

  1. Mobilizing membership
  2. Shaping public opinion with educational outreach and advertising
  3. Getting involved in campaigns and elections:
    • endorsements
    • hard-money campaign contributions to candidates
    • soft money spending on behalf of candidates (PACs)

There is evidence of increased importance of the “outside game” compared to the “inside game”, particularly when it comes to campaign finance in competitive elections (see Brown, 2018); however, direct lobbying still tends to be more effective than indirect lobbying.

Minor Political Parties in Texas

Minor parties do not play a significant role in Texas government and politics.  Except for the election of a small number of Libertarian candidates at the local level, minor party candidates have little success in Texas elections.  Furthermore, because primary elections have overshadowed general elections during times of one-period dominance, minor parties in Texas rarely play the spoiler role they sometimes play in presidential elections, in which minor parties change the outcome of the electoral votes in key states.

Minor parties often articulate and popularize new ideas; sometimes, these ideas are absorbed by one or both major parties.  This is where minor parties have had some effect on Texas government and politics.  As the history of political parties in Texas demonstrates, the Democratic party has been influenced by several minor parties over the past 150 years.

Future of Party Politics in Texas

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the future of party politics in Texas.  While some claim Texas will remain a one-party state dominated by the Republican party, others have claimed Texas is on the way to becoming a two-party “battleground” state again, largely due to demographic changes that may restore the Democratic party to power in Texas (similar to how demographic changes contributed to the rise of the Republican party during the mid-1900s).

History of Political Parties in Texas

Even though the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution make no mention of political parties, they have been a part of government and politics from early on.  At the federal level, U.S. political parties formed in the 1790s, developing out of the disagreements that existed between federalists, who favored a strong central government, and anti-federalists, who were leery of a strong central government and favored local, popular control.  By the time Texas was annexed by the United States, political parties had become dominant forces in national government and politics and had designed structures to organize and mobilize voters for elections, including party machines (organizations that support a political party and secure voters for candidates).

For much of Texas’s history as a state, one party has controlled state government.  There have been many times when one political party has both a government trifecta (holds the governorship and a majority in both chambers of our state legislature) and government triplex (holds the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state offices) in our state.  The party in control, however, has changed over time — where Texas was once dominated by the Democratic party, it is now dominated by the Republican party.

Personalities, Not Parties (1836-1845)

Texas was sparsely populated.  For this reason, Mexico began to incentivize Texas settlements by granting land contracts to empresarios who brought Anglo-American settlers to Texas during the 1820s.  Many of these empresarios and the Anglo-American settlers they brought with them had ties to the early U.S. Democratic party:

“As early as February 25, 1822, with the formation of the Texas Association in Russellville, Kentucky, individuals interested in land speculation came together to secure land grants in Texas. The Texas Association drew its membership from professionals-merchants, doctors, and lawyers-in Kentucky and Tennessee. Many of these men were also close friends of Andrew Jackson and had strong ties to the Democratic party. Likewise, most of the settlers in Texas were either from the Upper South or the Lower South and held strong allegiances to the Democratic party.” (Young, n.d.)

For context:  Following the 1828 presidential election, the Democratic party under Andrew Jackson’s leadership advocated for the common people, favored westward expansion, and opposed a national bank.

Following the Texas Revolution, many Texans continued to be sympathetic to the Democratic party; however, within the Republic of Texas, political parties had not established formal party organizations, and elections “demonstrated competition among rival factions or strong individuals . . . Personality was a dominant political force in the state” (Young, n.d.).

Democratic Dominance (1845-1952)

“. . . from independence in 1836 through the presidential election of 1952, the Democratic party in Texas was the only viable party in the state.  It dominated politics at all levels.” – Young, n.d.

Annexation through Civil War (1845-1865)

Many of the Anglo-American settlers in the Republic of Texas were sympathetic to and affiliated with the Democratic party; however, political parties had not formally organized and assumed an active role in Texas elections.  By the presidential election of 1848 (the first U.S. presidential election in which Texas was a state), however, “Contests between factions evolved into a more defined stage of competition with the development of the Democratic party in Texas as a formal organ of the electoral process” (Young, n.d.).  The Democratic party faced opposition from the Whig party, the American (Know-Nothing) party, and the Constitutional Union party, and personal loyalty continued to shape state government and politics.  Nevertheless, “partisanship developed slowly but steadily” (Young, n.d.).  By the mid-1850s, the Democratic party had put formal mechanisms of party discipline in place within Texas, including the convention system’s role in recruiting and training candidates for office.

Democratic dominance in state politics solidified leading into the Civil War:

“In the years after 1854 the ongoing upheaval in national politics influenced the party. In the process Texans moved away from an earlier identification with Jacksonian nationalism and became closely associated with the states’-rights goals of the lower South . . . During the Civil War, the Democratic party in Texas became closely associated with the extreme proslavery wing of the Democratic party in the Confederacy, and partisan activity came to a halt.” (Young, n.d.)

Reconstruction: A Republican Intermission (1867-1874)

Following the Civil War, the Democratic party in Texas split between unionist Democrats and secessionist Democrats.  During this period, the Democratic party began to reorganize itself both nationally and within the state, becoming a predominantly white southern party.  Unionist Democrats combined with the Free-Soilers to form the Republican Party, which became the party of business, the middle-class, and newly enfranchised Africa Americans.

In 1867, the Republican party “secured many county and state offices when federal military officers removed [Democratic] incumbents as ‘impediments to Reconstruction’ and replaced them with Republicans”, which “gave Republicans control over voter registration and placed party loyalists in positions to aid local party development” (Moneyhon, n.d.).  By 1869, the Republican party had gained control of state government, partially “as a result of the split among Democrats but more as a result of congressional Reconstruction nationally” (Young, n.d.).

Republican control was short-lived: by 1869, different factions of Texas Republicans had emerged – the Conservative Republicans and the Radical Republicans – and started fighting internally, creating division within the party, and by 1872, the Democratic party had regained control of the Texas legislature and, with the ratification and adoption of the Texas Constitution of 1876, removed the remaining influence of the Republican party by limiting the powers of the state, reducing state services, and limiting the state’s taxation power.

Late 19th Century

Throughout the late 1800s, the Democratic party remained the major political party by focusing on concerns from the Civil War era and encouraging candidates loyal to these causes through the convention process.

Rapid economic and social change amidst the Industrial Revolution led to the rise of protest movements and minor political parties within the U.S.  During this period, the Democratic party continued to face serious challenges from other political groups.  While the Democratic party survived these challenges and maintained a heavy presence in Texas government and politics, these challenges shaped the Democratic party.  Notable challengers include the Greenback party, which ultimately forced the Texas Democratic party to start focusing on economic problems within the state, the Farmers’ Alliance, which forced the Texas Democratic party to adopt a platform that supported the abolition of national banks and the regulation of businesses (this is when the Railroad Commission was created), and the People’s party (also known as the Populist party), which resulted in the Democratic party adopting various items from the populist platform.

Progressive Era (1900-1920)

“Texas did not become a real one-party state until after 1900, when the Republican party sank into insignificance and minor parties largely disappeared” (Political Parties, n.d.).  The emergence of Texas as a one-party state, however, did not mean that differences of opinion did not exist – rather, factions within the Democratic party emerged, and “Texas voters came to look upon the Democratic primary as the real election, because its nominees were largely unopposed in the general election and because Democratic factionalism in the primaries in reality substituted for party politics” (Political Parties, n.d.).

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the Democratic party split into two factions: progressives, who favored moral and cultural reforms (including prohibition, or laws preventing the manufacture and sale of alcohol), and those who opposed progressivism.  During this period, personality also played an important role, as factions within the party formed around individuals such as Governor James E. “Pa” Ferguson.  Progressive Democrats united in opposition to him.  Once he was impeached and removed from office, his successor – William P. Hobby, Sr. — worked with the Texas legislature (controlled by progressive Democrats) to enact the progressive agenda of prohibition, women’s suffrage (i.e., the right to vote), and reforming election laws.

Roaring ’20s

“For Texas Democrats the decade of the 1920s was a bridge between the ethnocultural issues of the Progressive Era and the economic concerns of the Great Depression and the New Deal” (Young, n.d.).  During this time period, Texas’s Democratic party began to focus on business progressivism and creating an expanded and more efficient government, taking up issues like highway development, prison reform, education reform, industrial expansion, economic growth, and the Ku Klux Klan.  Two progressive Democratic governors were elected during this time period: Pat Neff and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson.  Their success in translating the progressive platform into government action, however, was limited:

Despite Pat Neff’s gubernatorial administration (1921–25) and its attention to the cause of business progressivism . . . the legislature was not willing to accept all of Neff’s ideas. The result was a mixed record on business progressivism . . . the presence of Ma (Miriam A.) Ferguson as the leading anti-Klan candidate further weakened the progressive Democratic forces in the state. However, electing Mrs. Ferguson did have one ameliorative affect on Texas politics, namely the elimination of the Klan as a political force.” (Young, n.d.)

Leading into the 1928 presidential election between Republican candidate Herbert Hoover and Democratic candidate Al Smith, Texas’s Democratic party began to split in response to prohibition laws that had been passed during the previous decade, with wet Democrats favoring a dismantling of prohibition and dry Democrats advocating to maintain prohibition.  “Some of the state’s most ardent Democratic supporters of prohibition put principles above party and worked for the Republican nominee Herbert Hoover in the general election rather than support the Catholic wet candidate, Al Smith.” (Young, n.d.).  Hoover also gained the support of the Ku Klux Klan (which was less influential than in previous years), some Texans in the oil industry, and many fundamentalists.

Hoover became the first Republican presidential nominee to win Texas.  “At the state level, however, almost no change took place. The state Democratic party remained in the hands of conservatives, whose views of the role of government and fiscal policy were almost indistinguishable from those of Republicans” (Moneyhon, n.d.).

New Deal-WWII

The New Deal initially resulted in harmony and unity within Texas’s Democratic party as the state sought to bring about economic recovery; however, but the late 1930s, factions re-emerged in reaction to the national Democratic party (this time between liberal, New Deal Democrats and conservative Jeffersonian Democrats).  This division intensified as Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for his third presidential term.  In 1938, conservative Democrats began to re-enter the scene in state government with the election of W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel as governor.  Internal fighting within the party continued until World War II, when “attention to foreign policy . . . temporarily slowed the battles between the warring factions” (Young, n.d.).

In 1944, political tensions in Texas heightened in response to two events:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court declared Texas’s white primary law, which (as the name suggests) only allowed white voters to participate in the primary election, unconstitutional in the case Smith v. Allwright.  Because the “real” politics in Texas up until this point occurred not in the general election but rather in the primary election, this significantly changed who could meaningfully participate in state politics.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to run for his fourth presidential term “heightened tensions between the Roosevelt and anti-Roosevelt wings of the party . . . [and] led conservative Texas Democrats to join with the American Democratic National Committee, an organization formed to defeat the president . . . and arranged for the placement on the November ballot of an independent slate of electors who would never vote for FDR” (Young, n.d.).

These events demonstrated that a growing number of Texans favored conservative politics, regardless of whether those views aligned with the Democratic party’s state platform.  Texas’s Democratic party took note; “actions including the appointment of conservative businessmen to state boards and commissions and the passage of a right-to-work law that Texas governors, all Democrats, implemented during the 1940s reflected the dominant conservatism of the state” (Young, n.d.).

Two-Party Competition (1950s-1994)

Following the presidential election of 1828, Texas’s support for Republican presidential candidates continued to grow; however, outside of the presidential election, the Democratic party maintained a stronghold over Congress and state government . . . that is, until the 1950s.

By the end of the 1940s the Democratic party in Texas had split at least three ways-into a conservative wing that usually controlled state politics, a liberal wing that had supported the New Deal and that later championed the rights of women, the working class, and ethnic minorities, and a group in the middle that shifted back and forth between the two extremes. By the middle twentieth century the Texas Democratic party was riven by factional strife. The liberal-conservative Democratic split also aided the development of a viable state Republican opposition. (Young, n.d.)

Leading up to the 1950s, support for Republican party candidates in Congressional and state elections did not grow; however, the sources of Republican votes changed.  Texas’s Republican Party no longer had a strong African American base and instead garnered most of its support from the Panhandle region, counties with oil and gas interests, and urban counties, “where economic conditions and general prosperity produced a heterogeneous community with middle-class, professional, and business groups to offer support for the party . . . provided the greatest number of Republican votes” (Moneyhon, n.d.).

The Republican party entered a transitional era after 1950 that lasted until 1978.  This period was marked in part by increasing strength at the polls.  This growing strength was first seen in presidential elections, with Republican presidential candidates consistently winning Texas’s electoral votes.  Texas Republicans were elected to serve into the U.S. House of Representatives (Alger, 1954), the U.S. Senate (John G. Tower, 1961), and governor’s office (William P. Clements, 1978).  “In addition, urban centers sent more Republicans to the state legislature after a federal court ruling in 1972 abolished multimember legislative districts in the state’s cities, thus ending the ability of conservative Democrats to control county politics” (Moneyhon, n.d).  For the most part, however, the Republican party’s “Statewide election success was not paralleled at the local level, either in district and county offices or in the state legislature.” (Moneyhon, n.d.).

Division within the Democratic party continued as liberal Democrats pushed to establish a liberal Democratic party in Texas; however, despite this division, there was “little growth in the number of [conservative] Texans who actively identified with the [Republican] party at the state level . . . Though voters demonstrated increasing independence from their traditional ties to the Democratic party, they did not firmly identify with the Republicans” (Moneyhon, n.d.).  Some conservative Democratic voters began to realign their party identification, and by the mid-1960s, 37% of Texans who said they were once conservative Democrats had left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican party.  New conservative voters also began to identify with the Republican party.  What ultimately led to the rise of the Republican party as a viable contender to the Democratic party in state government and politics, however, was the urbanization of Texas:

“The party’s growing strength was partly a natural result of the shifting demography of Texas. As late as 1940 the majority of Texans lived in rural areas, but by 1950 the urban population had expanded to 59.8 percent of the state’s population, and by 1980 urban dwellers accounted for 79.6 percent of the total . . . As these regular Republican strongholds expanded, the party’s power in state elections rose as well.” (Moneyhon, n.d.). 

The 1970 election (which was a midterm election in which members for the 92nd U.S. Congress were elected) signaled the emergence of a competitive two-party system in Texas, and Clements’s election as governor in 1978 solidified the two-party system in state government.

The strength and size of the Republican party continued to grow, and by the early 1990s, about one third of the state’s voting eligible population identified as Republicans.  In response, the Democratic party “encouraged the development of a more moderate leadership for party machinery and pushed some individual Democratic candidates to try to appear more conservative than their Republican challengers” (Young, n.d.).  The Democratic party’s attempt to regain strong control of state government – or, at the very least, maintain the two-party system in Texas – by appealing to moderate and conservative voters ultimately failed.

Republican Dominance (1994-present)

“At the beginning of the 1990s, some analysts concluded that Texas had not only developed a vigorous two-party system but that the state also had become primarily Republican. After a hundred years as a minority party, the Republicans had become the majority.” – Moneyhon, n.d. opens in new window

The Republican party had grown into a strong political force in Texas by the early 1990s.  The early 1990s was a period of party realignment, or a transition period when a party system dominated by one of the two major parties is replaced by another system dominated by the other party.  In 1992, “59 of 150 House members and 13 of 31 senators were Republicans” (Moneyhon, n.d.).  Then, in 1994, the Republican party “regained the governor’s office, retained the office of agricultural commissioner, gained all three seats on the Railroad Commission, and picked up two congressional seats” (Young, n.d.), ushering in an era of Republican dominance.

Republican party dominance over the past few decades resembles the Democratic party dominance that existed in Texas during the early to mid 20th century.  The Republican party routinely controls most positions in the state’s plural executive and both chambers of the Texas legislature (although there is clearly still competition from the Democratic party, as the Republican’s majority in both chambers of the 87th Texas Legislature is slim, similar to the Democratic party’s majority in 1992). Republican voters tend to be more engaged – and show up at the polls – more often than do Democratic voters, particularly when it comes to primary elections:

“In 2014, without a presidential race topping the ballot, 1.36 million Republicans came to vote in the primaries. At the same time, only 560,033 Democrats turned out. The numbers have been like that for years. They vary depending on whether candidates are competitive, what issues are on the ballot and so on. But with a few notable exceptions, more Republicans than Democrats show up for primary elections in Texas . . . The Democratic primaries have plenty of contests, but at the state level they don’t feature people who have, at least so far, exhibited the kind of charisma or passion needed to get the party’s voters to the polls.” (Ramsey, 2018)

Political Parties: The Basics

Political parties are fairly well-structured organizations that are committed to a set of policies and principles, are led by party professionals, have clearly defined membership requirements, have centralized control over party nominations and financing, and have the power to exercise substantial discipline over party members who hold political office.  Political parties perform numerous functions that help support popular sovereignty and political equality, including ensuring competitive elections by recruiting candidates for public office, organizing and running elections, presenting alternative policies to the electorate, representing a broad range of groups, stimulating political interest, accepting responsibility for operating the government, and acting as the organized opposition to the party in power.

Political parties consist of three components:

  1. party-in-the-electorate, which refers to members of the general public who identify with a political party or who express a preference for one party over the other
  2. party organization, which is the formal structure and leadership of a political party, including election committees, local, state, and national executives, and paid professional staff
  3. party-in-government, which consists of all the elected and appointed officials who identify with a political party


By fostering a sense of loyalty with portions of the electorate, a party can insulate itself from changes in the system and improve its odds of winning elections and shaping public policy outcomes.  This is where the party-in-the-electorate, which is responsible for voting for a political party’s candidates during primary and general elections, comes into play.

A political party’s party-in-the-electorate is composed of many diverse and independent groups and individuals, including:

  • party identifiers, or members of the electorate who publicly represent themselves as being members of the party, and
  • independents who do not consider themselves to be members of a political party but tend to lean in the direction of one of the major political parties

Party identification is the byproduct of political socialization and is influenced by various factors, including (but not limited to) race, ethnicity, family, region, ideology, and religious beliefs.

Graph showing results of Gallup poll on party affiliation in the United States, 1989-2017

Over the past several decades, partisanship, or belief in and affiliation with a political party, has been declining.  Today, Americans are less likely to identify with a political party and are more likely to consider themselves independents.  We see this phenomenon playing out in our state.  When looking at Texas’s voting-age population in 2021:

Pie chart depicting party identification among Texas's voting age population, 2021
Party Identification, Texas Voting Age Population.  From Haag (2021)
  • 29% consider themselves strong or weak Democrats
  • 9% consider themselves to be Democratic-leaning independents
  • 31% consider themselves to be independents
  • 7% consider themselves to be Republican-leaning independents
  • 24% consider themselves to be strong or weak Republicans

This declining party affiliation has changed how political parties approach their goal of fostering a sense of political loyalty within the electorate, which has in turn impacted campaigns and elections.

Party Organization

The party organization is responsible for coordinating party behavior and supporting party candidates.  It consists of three levels: the national party organization, the state party organization, and local party organizations (which includes precincts and counties).

The national party organization is far more visible than are the state and local party organizations; however, each level of the party organization plays important, distinct roles (summarized in the table below).

Local (Precinct & County) Organizations State Organization National Organization
Mobilize voters and donors Mobilizes voters and donors (greater fundraising responsibilities than local organizations) Engages in fundraising


Identify and train potential candidates for local offices Identifies and trains potential candidates for state office and to represent the state in national government (i.e., Congress); helps candidates prepare for state primaries Identifies and trains potential presidential candidates
Recruit new members of the party Creates a sense of unity among the party-in-the-electorate within the state


Tries to coordinate and direct the efforts of Congress
Find volunteers for Election Day Hosts conventions where local delegates discuss the needs in their respective areas and select delegates for the national party convention Coordinate national conventions, where the parties formally nominate candidates for the offices of president and vice president
  Drafts the state party platform  Drafts the national party platform

Party platform = document that outlines the policies, positions, and principles of the party and serves as guides to elected officials who form part of the party-in-government)

A Closer Look: Party Organization in Texas

In Texas, the state party organization and local party organizations consist of the temporary party organization and the permanent party organization.

Figure depicting Texas's temporary and permanent party organizations

Temporary Party Organization

The temporary party organization of each party assembles for a few hours or days in general election years to allow rank-and-file party supporters a chance to participate in the party’s decision-making process.  Citizens who voted in the primary election are eligible to participate in the precinct convention of the party in whose primary they voted.  The main business of precinct conventions is to elect delegates to the county and district conventions.  The main business of the county or district convention is to select delegates to the state convention. The number of delegates an election precinct may send to the county or district convention, or that a county or district convention may send to a state convention, depends on the size of the vote in that precinct for the party’s candidate in the last governor’s election.

The Republican and Democratic parties hold their state conventions in June.  State conventions perform several functions, including certifying party nominees for the general election, electing the state party chairperson and vice-chairperson, choosing members of the state executive committee, and selecting individuals to serve on the national party executive committee.  During presidential election years, state conventions also select delegates to the national party convention and name a slate of potential presidential electors to cast the electoral college votes for Texas should the party’s presidential candidate carry the state in the November general election.

Permanent Party Organization

Each party has a permanent party organization that operates year-round.

At the base of the permanent party organization are the precinct and county chairpersons, who coordinate and conduct primary elections by setting up and staffing polling places on Election Day.

The county executive committee is the next highest level of the permanent party organization.  The county executive committee receives filing petitions and fees from primary election candidates for countywide offices, places candidates’ names on the ballot, and arranges county and district conventions.

The state executive committee is the highest level of party organization in the state.  It includes the party chair and vice-chair and committee persons representing each of the state’s 31 electoral districts.  The state executive committee certifies statewide candidates for the spring primary, arranges state party conventions, raises money for party candidates, and promotes the party.  The state party chairs serve as media spokespersons for their respective parties.


The primary responsibility of the party-in-government is to achieve a political party’s policy goals.

Political parties determine the means through which their goals will be achieved: Republicans hold party conferences and Democrats hold party caucuses to discuss policy priorities, legislation, and strategies.  At the national level, key Congressional leadership positions, such as the party leaders and party whips, reinforce the strength of the party-in-government in the policymaking process.  Similar positions can be found within Texas’s state government, as well.

Party-in-government is not always effective in translating party platforms into policy actions, however.  Our system of separation of powers and federalism makes it difficult to maintain party loyalty as elected officials are often responsible to different constituencies who may share competing interests.  Not all political candidates who have the endorsement of a political party run on that political party’s platform; often, candidates have their own ideas and beliefs concerning various social and economic interests that diverge from those in the official platforms adopted at state and national conventions.  There are also structural characteristics that make it difficult to achieve party unity at both the national level (i.e., the committee structure and the Senate filibuster) and at the state level (i.e., the creation of a plural executive and the short regular sessions and “no party” organization of the Texas legislature).  Indeed, our political parties seldom behave as responsible parties that take a clear stand on issues within distinctive party platforms and then translate those beliefs and ideas into actions once elected, as outlined in the responsible party model.  Instead, they tend to follow the rational party model: political parties endorse candidates for office in hopes those candidates will represent that party and its interests.