As you continue reading, keep in mind that who wins or loses elections usually constitutes the most immediate concern for voters, candidates, and parties alike. But voting and campaigning themselves continue to change, in the role of money, communications technology, political organization, and grassroots efforts.
Republican Party resurgence and Democratic Party decline in Texas over the past two decades have occurred as the art of political campaigning has become more finely honed. The continuing development of traditional media outlets and the appearance and maturation of new media outlets cable television, the Internet have created new opportunities and demands for political campaigns. They have also posed new challenges to the notion of popular control and voter choice because of the escalating amounts of money needed to feed the increasingly complex campaign machinery and the ever-more sophisticated techniques of turning out the vote.
But money and technology are only part of the story of the transformation of voting and political campaigning in the state. Shifts in party fortunes have come in the context of structural change in the state. Texas society is undergoing social, cultural, and economic transformations, which parties and candidates cannot even hope to control. Urbanization, growth of Latin and Asian populations, the decline of mining and agriculture, the growth of technology, and the proliferation of autonomous grassroots organizing all contribute to an environment that continually challenges the political status quo.
In short, we are witnessing changes at both the top and bottom of the political system that promise increasing levels of political conflict and continued political change. At the top, increasingly sophisticated campaigning in an intensely competitive, partisan environment has led to ever greater reliance on money and lots of it to run successful political campaigns. At the bottom, the democratizing effects of new media like the World Wide Web and email have opened new opportunities for grassroots organizations and insurgent campaigns to participate meaningfully in political campaigning. Additionally, grassroots groups across the political spectrum have become quite sophisticated almost as sophisticated as the high-dollar campaigns in organizing and mobilizing their supporters for intense political struggle.
This chapter explores these dynamics by examining the two major components of elections: voting and campaigning. First, we look at voting. We begin by reviewing the formal-legal context of voting and elections. Then we proceed to examine the reality of voting. Here we seek to explain why citizens vote, and why voting is so important. We pay special attention to historical and current barriers to voting in Texas.
We also examine the origins and impact of the two-party system in American and Texas politics, a system often regarded as contributing to low voting rates in the U.S.
After examining voting, we turn to campaigning. First we review the mechanics by which individuals and parties get on the ballot. We continue by examining the logic and limitations of political polling as a tool for understanding voter wishes and packaging candidates and policy proposals.
Finally, we examine the two core elements of campaigning: mobilizing money (i.e., fundraising) and mobilizing voters. Money is no good unless it can be converted into votes. But fundraising is, in a sense, the first contest a candidate must face long before any votes are cast. Without campaign financing, voters may never get the chance to know that a candidate even exists.