UT Tyler professors publish book on Texas’ changing political landscape
‘Battle for the Heart of Texas’ comes as the result of polling and focus groups conducted by the university
TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A new book written by three East Texas professors examines the state of Texas’ changing political landscape and the reshaping of voter preferences.
Using what they’ve learned from polls and surveys conducted at the UT Tyler Center for Opinion Research, Dr. Mark Owens, Dr. Ken Wink, and Dr. Kenneth Bryant Jr. wrote “Battle for the Heart of Texas: Political Change in the Electorate.”
“The demographics are changing and have changed over the course of the last few decades,” said Bryant. “And, we’ve seen that, and we’re seeing that the type of person who is voting in Texas that voted in the 1990s is not the same that we’re to expect going forward in the next few cycles.”
The book examines the unique and diversifying nature of the Texas electorate, but points out while demographics are useful, they are not destiny as once believed.
“Just because it’s younger and it’s of color doesn’t mean that these are automatic Democratic voters,” Bryant said. “And that, I think, is one of the conclusions that we can draw from the book: that it’s a complicated conversation.”
The book presents a deeply researched look at who Texas voters are, what they want, and what it might mean for the future of the Republican and Democratic parties, the state, and the nation, according to its authors.
“The eternal question over the last 20 or 30 years is, ‘Is Texas red or is it purple? Is it becoming more blue?’ And, as Dr. Bryant said, that remains to be seen,” said Wink.
To better understand where the state is and where it may be going, the book looks at where we’ve been politically.
“What we do know is that one-party rule has not been an exception in Texas; it’s been sort of the norm,” Wink said. “The Democrats really controlled the state for 100 years. What we found is that once a Republican won something big, which was really John Tower in a special election, I believe in 1961, winning the Senate seat. The notion that Republicans could perhaps win statewide began to catch on. There was about a 20-year period of time from the ‘60s to say the mid ‘80s where Republicans became formidable. And then, 20 years after that, they became the dominant party.”
As for the changes beyond party shifts, the professors also look at changes in how candidates communicate with voters.
“What did Governor Abbott say today? What did Beto O’Rourke say today? Then a lot of different pieces of information come back together. But, those candidates don’t have to be together on primetime anymore,” Owens said. “And, I think that’s where we’re losing some ability to compare people side-by-side, by them not being involved in the same media discussion together.”
Something Owens said played into the editorial cartoon selected for the book’s cover.
“I don’t know that there’s a picture of Beto O’Rourke and Governor Abbott together before September of 2022,” Owens said.
Regardless of what the future of Texas politics will look like, one thing everyone agreed on is its importance.
“Texas is going to be worth the investment in future elections, especially like 2024,” Owens said.
“Battle for the Heart of Texas: Political Change in the Electorate” was published in August by The University of Oklahoma Press.
Dr. Owens is an associate professor of political science with expertise in the development and organization of American political institutions. Dr. Wink is associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of public administration. He researches public opinion and voting behavior in American politics. Dr. Bryant is an associate professor of political science with a research focus on re-examining conventional thought about historically marginalized communities.
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