California vs. Texas: Why California is Politically More Competitive

Stereotypes are common in the geography of politics. Democrats dominate urban cityscapes while Republicans’ strength lies in suburban and rural areas. California is a relaxed western liberal state while Texas is a southern bastion of conservatism. These stereotypes change through the decades and can be challenged, but these two states are so different it is worth comparing them. Which state most adequately represents their electorate?

 

On a statewide level, Texas is considered a government trifecta, where one party holds both chambers of the legislature and the executive branch. While Democrats dominate cities in South and West Texas, no Democrat has won statewide office since 1994.

Meanwhile, California is one of 13 Democratic trifectas. Republicans may have 10 more states in this category, but California most recently had a supermajority in its Legislature. Democrats lost their supermajority in the state Senate when two Democratic senators had to declare leaves of absence due to felony investigations.

While a supermajority appears to point toward California being more Democrat than Texas is Republican, a voter breakdown indicates that things are not so red and blue in California, and that the state is actually more competitive.

 

Texas and California are both minority-majority states with growing Latino populations. Texas, a state with nearly 26.5 million residents, has a Latino population of 38.2 percent. California is the most populous state with over 38 million residents, but the same Latino population as a percentage of the whole.

Aside from using Latinos as a comparison point between California and Texas, it is also one of the most influential groups in state and national politics.

 

Rapidly changing demographics are a sign for worry and opportunity for both Texas Democrats and Republicans. Latinos are expected to be the state’s primary ethnic group by 2020. It is another reason why both parties should be careful discussing immigration and border security.

Texas has a disadvantage when it comes to voter turnout among Latinos. A poll by Latino Decisions showed that Latino participation in the 2012 presidential election was at 39 percent, 10 percentage points lower than the national Latino average and 20 percentage points lower than white Texas voters.

Latino voter participation in California also has room to improve, but in terms of representation, the state has the second most Latino lawmakers in the state legislature: 19 in the Assembly and 7 in the Senate. The state with the most Latino lawmakers is not Texas, but New Mexico.

During the 2012 election, the Lone Star State and Golden State appeared as mirror images of each other. Texas was a major Red state in 2012’s presidential election and went toward Romney, 57-41, just as California went for Obama, 60-37. However, on a county-by-county breakdown, the numbers are less one-sided in California.

There were more one-sided Texas counties which heavily favored Romney (196 out of 254) to Obama (14). In this case, one-sided means that one candidate earned over 66 percent of the vote.

California, even though it has fewer counties, had more evenly contested ones. Obama won at least 66 percent of the vote in only 11 of 58 while Romney voters surpassed the supermajority level in only 2.

According to a February 2013 report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), independents have increased in numbers while there are less Republicans and Democrats compared to 2003. With 1 in 5 Californians claiming to be independent, this could explain the higher number of competitive races in the state. Independents in Texas are not as strong of a political force. While it could be that Texas is simply a more homogenous state, the state’s diverse demographics — political, ideological, cultural, ethnic groups, etc. — show otherwise.

 

When understanding why California is more competitive — and more representative — in elections from state races to the national level, It may be worth noting the differences in the states’ electoral systems.

It is unclear if the level of competition in Texas will ever match the political competitiveness in California.
Brandon Fallon, IVN contributor
Texas conducts partisan open primaries where the electorate is only given two options when casting a primary ballot — Republican or Democrat — without the ability to vote across party lines, and redraws its districts through a partisan-driven legislative process. Combined, the two can create a political atmosphere where there are no general elections that matter and many voters feel both discouraged and disenfranchised as they vote with a “lesser of the two evils” mentality.

California, on the other hand, has a Top-Two Primary System for state Assembly, Senate, and statewide races in which all voters and candidates participate on a single ballot. As the number of registered independents continues to rise, ‘Top-Two’ allows voters to choose candidates from across the political spectrum and forces those running for office to appeal to a much larger base of voters.

Further, electoral districts are redrawn by an independent commission — not the state Legislature. According to the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, partisanship decreased in the state Legislature after the state implemented these two election reforms. However, the study concluded that more time will need to pass before any conclusive results can be stated on the true effects of the new primary system.

Similarly, only time will tell if elections become more competitive in Texas. The growing Latino voting population will continue to shift the political landscape, which could result in an increase in competition. However, it is unclear if the level of competition in the state will ever match the political competitiveness in California.