Are Democrats and Republicans in Ascendancy, or Decline?
By Mike Ford, Initiative for Texas

Virtually all elective and appointive offices -- whether executive, legislative, or judicial, whether at the national, state, or local level -- are held by Democrats or Republicans. As a result they benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars of special interest money and hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds. They have the non-stop attention of the media. These two parties have held a monopoly on all elective office power for over a hundred years. They feel ascendant.

But shrinking voter turnout and increased third party activity tell a different story. Of the 1,014 Texans that the Texas Poll(1) surveyed last month, 304 were not likely to vote. Of the 691 who identified themselves as likely voters, 323 did not affiliate themselves with either the Republican or the Democratic party. Thus in Texas, 627 of the 1014 adults surveyed (61%) were ignoring both major parties.

This should not be surprising. These two parties have been increasingly aggressive in using their power to disenfranchise possible competition. They have rigged ballot access laws, campaign finance laws, and even election districts to favor incumbents. They permit the various government entities in Texas to have their own separate Election Day; and the resulting 6 or 7 elections a year is a main reason for low voter turnout. They refuse to mail sample ballots to registered voters – one reason the electorate is remains so ill-informed.

Last month the organized political parties in Texas (Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Reform) held their conventions. The contrast between the two old parties and the new parties was striking. The Democrats, having held uncontested power for over 100 years, have long felt comfortable opposing changes the public wants – changes such as initiative and referendum (I&R), school choice, campaign finance reform, and term limits. The Republican Party used to say it was for these changes. But now, expecting to take control of all branches of state government, the Republicans have recently removed both I&R and term limits from the party platform.

While the major parties use their undeniable power to stonewall the public on what it wants, third parties have emerged advocating changes the public wants. The Libertarian Party, the Reform Party and the Green Party have platforms with specific planks calling for I&R, campaign finance reform, and term limits.

Texans want the same rights of initiative and referendum enjoyed by citizens in 23 other states. This has been abundantly clear since at least 1978 when Howard Jarvis proposed Proposition 13 to Californians; and despite the opposition of every elected official in the state, Californians passed it by a 2 to 1 margin. Republicans voting in their 1980 primary were in favor of I&R by a margin of 7 to 1 and later in 1982, 5 to 1. A 1995 a Tarrance poll found Texans in favor I&R by a margin of 68% to 20%. A Rasmussen Research(2) poll conducted for the Initiative and Referendum Institute last week finds that Texans want I&R by a 6 to 1 margin (74% to 12%).

In 1997 the Texas Poll(1) surveyed 998 adult Texans finding that they were in favor (62% to 28%) of parents having vouchers to provide choice in where their children go to school.

In February 1996 Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates(3) in a survey of 1000 voters found that 72% supported term limits, with 22% opposed. In December 1997 Rasmussen Research2 found that 69% supported term limits, with 14% opposed.

How long can the Democrats and Republicans, with their awesome organizations so well funded both by special interests and the public purse, continue to defy the public will on these important issues? Will they hold out as long as they can – and then save themselves by adopting the public’s position? Or will they gradually be replaced by growing third parties whose purposes coincide with the public will?

1) The Texas Poll, Office of Survey Research, University of TX, Austin
2) Rasmussen Research, Charlotte, NC, 704-843-2116
3) Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, Alexandria, VA, (703) 684-4510

Mike Ford, Chairman, Initiative for Texas, can be reached in Austin,
Texas at or (512) 347-1470.

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