Policy & Platforms

Past Practices

related video
Tad Devine on the role of platforms for political parties.
Susan Brophy on platforms.
Jack Corrigan on platform disagreements.

Past party platforms highlight the major issues in American politics at that moment.  Voters are primarily concerned about how politicians will confront the issues that have the most immediate impact on their daily lives. To address these concerns, parties offer broad solutions outlined in their platforms.  While they do not address every national problem, they do capture the defining crises of the era.  For instance, the platforms of the 1950s discussed the threat of communism to the United States and the world; those of the 1960s addressed civil rights and changing public attitudes toward the Vietnam War; the 1980s provided solutions to economic inflation, both sides of the abortion debate and the Cold War; and the 2000s were marked by the War on Terror and the economic collapse. Platforms of the past 50 years capture each party’s position on nearly every issue facing the nation at that time.

Outside of their value as historic timelines, platforms also serve as markers of political effectiveness and earnestness.  Did Republicans promise tax breaks to everybody in a platform, but then extend those breaks only to the wealthy?  Did Democrats express their intent to reduce government spending and public assistance, and then proceed to expand such programs?  Platforms remind voters that the party, and by extension the candidate, have made promises to the entire country. In turn, voters can pressure their leaders to fulfill their campaign pledges while having an official document to point to if they stray from their previous stances on the issues. The platform allows voters to punish or reward politicians.