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).

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.)

Texas Today


Over the past few decades, Texas has experienced rapid and continued population growth, with an increase of 4.3 million from 2000 to 2010, and an increase of 4 million from 2010 to 2020.  This rate of population growth outpaces many other states; for that reason, Texas gained four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives following the 2010 Census and an additional two seats following the 2020 Census.

Today, Texas is the second most populated state in the United States, with a population of over 29.1 million people, of which:

  • 6.9% are under 5 years of age, 25.5% are under 18 years of age, and 12.9% are 65 years of age or older;
  • 50.3% are female
  • 41.2% are white, 39.7% are Hispanic or Latino, 12.9% are Black or African American, 5.2% are Asian, 1.0% are American Indian or Alaskan Native, 0.1% are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 2.1% are two or more races (Texas is a majority-minority state because less than 50% of the population are non-Hispanic white persons)
  • 17% were foreign-born persons

While there are still many rural areas in Texas, its population is increasingly residing in urban areas.  Today, three of the largest 10 cities in the United States are in Texas: Houston (#4, with a population of nearly 2.4 million); San Antonio (#7, with a population of nearly 1.6 million); and Dallas (#9, with a population of about 1.4 million).

Most Texans graduate high school (83.7% of persons 25 years of age or older); however, significantly fewer graduate college with a four-year degree (29.9% of persons 25 years of age or older).

The median household income in Texas in 2019 was $61,874, and the per capita income (average individual income) was $31,277; 13.6% were in poverty.  That same year, 64.2% of persons 16 years of age or older were employed; among females, 57.8% of persons 16 years of age or older were employed.

For more statistics about Texas, check out the U.S. Census’s Texas QuickFacts page.

Ideological Distribution

Most people in the U.S. fall into two ideologies:

  • Conservatives, which generally favor limited government in social and/or economic life, based on the belief that a big government can only infringe on our individual, personal, and economic rights (a government is best that governs least); conservative ideology is generally status-quo-oriented
  • liberals, which generally views government action as necessary to ensure people are as free as possible and believe government should protect individual liberties and rights and provide social services based on equality; liberal ideology tends to view change as progressive and, at times, necessary for the greater good of society

Texas is considered a “center-right” state.  Individualistic and traditionalistic cultural elements have combined to produce conservatism in our government.  Random sample polls of registered voters have supported this statement by consistently showing that most Texans who are registered to vote currently identify themselves as moderates or conservatives.

This does not imply, however, that all Texans are conservative, nor does it imply that all conservative Texans share the same beliefs regarding government and politics.  Indeed, the Threads of Texas project identified seven different segments of Texans that differ when it comes to “their orientation and emotion towards change and their understanding of what it means to be Texan” (Ramsey, 2021):

  • Lone Star Progressives: liberal, highly engaged, alienated, critical, and empathetic
  • Civic Pragmatists: engaged, civic-minded, pragmatic, rational, and measured
  • Rising Mavericks: younger, diverse, proud, critical, multifaceted, and politically informed
  • Apolitical Providers: lower income, equality-focused, detached, apprehensive, and apolitical
  • Die-hard Texans: proud, Texan-centered, optimistic, traditional, culturally connected, and politically disengaged
  • Texas Faithful: patriotic, traditional, faith-oriented, skeptical, and conspiratorial
  • Heritage Defenders: white, conservative, partisan, libertarian, and embattled


Texas has transitioned over time from an economy based largely on agricultural products, to one dominated by the oil industry, to the highly diversified economy that exists in the state today.

During Rick Perry’s time as governor, many businesses, including many companies in the automotive manufacturing and information technology industries, have opened new locations and/or relocated their corporate headquarters to Texas due to low taxes, generous subsidies, low regulations, and a large workforce.  This trend has continued during Greg Abbott’s governorship — Tesla’s decision to construct the Gigafactory automotive manufacturing facility in Austin (and their more plans to construct the “Bobcat Project” facility next to the Gigafactory) is one of many, many examples of businesses choosing to expand their operations within our state.

Today, Texas’s GDP (gross domestic product) is larger than that of some countries.  Texas creates one out of every four jobs in the U.S. (with greater job creation than California, the most populated state).  Texas also leads in exports; indeed, the state “has always been an export-based economy, with first cotton, then energy and now high-tech linking it to global markets” (The future is – Texas; Texas, 2002)

What is Political Culture?

Underlying every political system is a unique political culture, or commonly shared ideas, beliefs, and values about a nation or state’s history, citizenship, and government held by a population.  Political culture is based on normative or prescriptive statements about how things ought to be and includes both formal rules and informal customs and traditions.

Political culture generally remains relatively stable over time because important ideas, beliefs, values, customs, and traditions are passed down generationally through various agents including families, schools, the media, and the government through the process of political socialization.  Political socialization helps to ensure that majority of citizens are well grounded in and committed to the values that sustain that political system.  This does not suggest, however, that political culture is uniform and inflexible.  Political culture often consists of diverse subcultures based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geographic location.  Furthermore, political and historical events can reshape attitudes and beliefs and cause shifts in political culture.

What Does Political Culture Do?

Provides political system with distinctive characteristics

Political culture significantly influences government and politics within a nation or state.  Political culture shapes the way constitutions are written, the type of government institutions adopted it shapes the type of government institutions adopted, the boundaries of governmental authority, and the role of citizens.

Political culture binds us together

A stable political culture   Political culture unites populations by focusing on what we have in common.  Political culture also provides a framework for disagreement and conflict resolution by setting the boundaries of acceptable political behavior in society.  Furthermore, political culture benefits political systems through cultivating and maintaining diffuse support characterized by political stability, acceptance of the legitimacy of government, and a common goal of preserving the system in place.