The Itsy Bitsy Primaries of Texas

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In Texas, the Democratic Party is so weak that the only election that really matters is the Republican primary. But:

In the 2002, 2006, and 2010 votes in which [Rick] Perry was elected governor, only around 4 percent of the voting-age population turned out for the Republican primary.

That’s….stupefying. But basically right, according to the Texas Secretary of State. In the 2000 Republican primary runoff (Perry’s first gubernatorial race), 1.55% of the eligible population voted. In the 2002 primary, it was 4.01%. In the 2006 primary it was 3.94%. In the 2010 primary, turnout skyrocketed to 8.0%.

How unusual is this? I’m not sure, but I went ahead and looked up the primary turnout numbers for my state, California. We turn out about 24% of the eligible population in our gubernatorial primary elections, which are held on the same schedule as Texas. That’s for both parties, so figure that’s about 14% for the dominant party (Democrats, in our case), more than 3x the typical Texas turnout for their dominant party.

I don’t really know what to make of this. At first I thought maybe it was because Perry was an incumbent for most of those elections, so the primary just didn’t generate much excitement. But the turnout in 2000 was only 1.55%, and the turnout in the 1994 primary, when George Bush first ran, was 1.54%. Or maybe it’s ballot initiatives that make the difference: we had lots of ’em and Texas didn’t in those elections. But whatever the reason, Texas Republicans just don’t vote much in their primaries.

Kinda weird. Harvey Tucker, professor of political science at Texas A&M, explains:

In Texas, the “people who vote in primary elections are unusual people,” Tucker stressed to me. “They are more extreme, further to the right.” In other words, Perry was able to repeatedly vault himself to the governorship largely not because he was a persuasive campaigner, but because he catered to the extreme views of a minority of die-hard conservatives.

Well, primary voters everywhere tend to be more extreme than the general population. But Texas does everything bigger, and I guess they do that bigger too. I wonder if Perry will figure that out in time?

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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