OP-ED: Why Matthew McConaughey Might be the Democrats’ Great Hope


Ehab Alhosaini, Contributor

In recent months, the political limelight has been placed directly on movie star Matthew McConaughey. The former Dazed and Confused and Dallas Buyers Club star is rumored to be running for the Texas gubernatorial race in 2022. McConnaughey is positioning himself between the center of the political aisle, calling himself “aggressively centric” and largely shedding all political labels. Despite his criticism of the Democratic “illiberal left,” McConnaughey represents the best chance for Democrats to defeat Republican governor Greg Abbott due to his relative independence from party labels and his charisma in order to restore and inspire hope in a distrusted Texas government.

The Democratic Party is currently mixed on McConaughey’s electoral profile. Texas Democratic Party chair Gilbert Hinojosa said that he would welcome a McConaughey run on the Democratic ticket. However, former Texas senatorial candidate and potential gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke questioned McConaughey’s commitment to the issues and to the Democratic Party platform. O’Rourke inquired whom McConaughey voted for—or whether he even did vote—in the 2020 presidential election, signaling that O’Rourke is trying to characterize McConaughey as a conservative, out-of-touch figure with the Democratic Party. 

However, McConaughey brings two major elements to the electorate that previous Democratic candidates have missed: an appeal to unaffiliated, apolitical, and disillusioned voters as well as a relative independence from party labels. McConaughey has large name recognition due to his relative fame in blockbuster movies, which allows him to speak towards an undecided audience. This is reflected in his recent poll numbers, where he leads incumbent Republican governor Greg Abbott 45%-33%, with 30% of Republican voters stating an intention to vote for McConaughey; in effect, he is already displaying his movie-star power to attract voters across the political spectrum.

McConaughey also already has relatively liberal views that places him comfortably within the masses of the Democratic coalition. He has previously spoken out against gun violence and advocated for new gun laws in the wake of mass school shootings, arguing for “there to be a background check.” With regards to racial turmoil after the death of George Floyd and subsequent demonstrations in Minnesota, McConaughey voiced the necessity of a streamlined approach against defund the police, stating that there must be directed funds that allow police and communities “to get back together”. In addition, he has an overall decent fit with the Democratic Party on social issues, as his overall disgust with the newly enacted Texas abortion law, coupled with his pro-mask stance calling a mask a “road towards long-term freedom”. As a result, these positions enforce McConaughey as a relatively socially liberal politician, even if his economic policies are unknown. 

McConaughey also has greater authenticity and candor on numerous issues that speak well to many inattentive, politically independent voters. For example, his derailing of fitting into one party over another to be one’s team is seen as “unconstitutional” in his eyes. This is particularly interesting given the composition of Texas’ political scene, where 29% of the state identifies as independent. This is a market where McConaughey wants to engage with extensively, focusing on voters who feel tugged along by both parties. 

I argue that McConaughey represents a new shift for the Democratic Party and can appeal to a wider subset of voters, due to his widespread name recognition advantages beyond politics and his ability to speak to the  non-managerial, blue-collar voters that the Democratic Party is currently losing. The Democratic Party is seeing a downward trend in blue-collar voters, with 62% of all white non-college educated voters leaning towards the Republican Party. In Texas, for example, non-college educated whites make up a plurality of the electorate at 34%, with a 73% vote split towards the Republican Party. Thus, this demographic is largely Republican and representative of a greater slice of the overall Texas electorate. 

As a result, why would Democrats nominate McConaughey if demographics he might appeal to—such as non-college educated, less managerial voters—are not in the Democrats’ wheelbox? Democrats have to be careful in recognizing that 2022 will not be as fruitful as 2018 or 2020 in terms of vote margin. As of right now, President Joe Biden’s approval rating is underwater at 44.6% approval, and Democrats only have a 2 point congressional generic ballot advantage. Even though we see a greater Democratic strength in the state over the past few elections (Trump only won over President Biden by 5.6%), Texas is still a traditional, conservative bloc deeply ingrained with Republican values.  In addition, Texas is not a state that is Democratic on a major level, even if it is trending in this direction, President Trump won over President Biden by 5.6%

In this case, McConaughey represents a necessary risk that Democrats should take to persuade less attentive voters and rile up mainstream enthusiasm. McConaughey is a charismatic public speaker and is largely acceptable policy-wise to most Democrats and Republicans (although this could change with greater policy detail). His aforementioned 30% support from Republicans, while still early, signals that cross-over appeal with Republican voters is real. McConaughey’s aforementioned strength of appealing to non-college white voters is not mutually exclusive with appeals to non-white voters, a pivotal base of the Democratic Party. McConaughey’s opposition on defunding the police, in particular, is not as polarizing towards minority voters in the Democratic Party as expected; only 28% of black voters and 34% of Democrats support abolishing the police in general, signaling general Democratic and black agreement with McConaughey on defunding the police.

Thus, McConaughey represents a perfect opportunity for Democrats to counter an expectedly rough 2022 midterm season with a fresh, new candidate away from Washington, DC. He offers both a balanced political perspective with liberal overtones and is proven to be popular across the ideological spectrum, signaling that maybe, he can make Texas alright, alright, alright.

Image Credit: “Matthew McConaughey” by Ethan Rougon on Unsplash