Party Platforms Don't Really Matter

| by Mark Jones
An image of the famous symbols of the Republican and Democratic Parties, an elephant and a donkey, respectively. An image of the famous symbols of the Republican and Democratic Parties, an elephant and a donkey, respectively.

Political platforms, although not officially, are culturally a thing of the past.

Party platform irrelevance is not a new phenomenon.  They are not a fashion trend that has gone out of style simply because a new craze has taken their place.  (That would be a different kind of platform altogether.)

Political platforms have been on their way out since the 1970s, when significant changes to the nomination process affected both the Democratic and Republican Parties.  These changes made the nomination process more extensive, thereby rendering votes more candidate-driven than policy-driven in the months leading up to the presidential election.

Since then, elections have had more to do with who is running for president than what their collective party chooses to promise during the National Convention.

Just before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, the 2016 Presidential Election continues to prove the uselessness of party platforms. 

Every election year, candidates for president spark media and public interest.  2016 in particular, however, has brought exceedingly high-profile personalities to the forefront of American attention.

On the right side, conservatives are choosing to send money-maniac Donald J. Trump, former host of "The Apprentice," into battle.  On the left, Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State and email scandal culprit, beat out Bernie Sanders, the farthest leaning left-wing personality this country has ever seen.

Anyone who wants to claim that the American people are likely to make an informed decision based on an extensive read-through of party platforms must be crazy.

Just look at the signs decorating front lawns, T-shirts covering outspoken supporters, or ads plastered in newspapers and magazines.  Do these advertisements say "Republican Party 2016!" or "Let's Go Democrats?" No. They say "Clinton '16" or "Make America Great Again," the Trump campaign's adopted slogan.

Americans are voting for people, not policies.

Earlier in July, Clinton agreed to incorporate more of Sanders’ originally proposed ideas in her political campaign.  This decision, in the eyes of the American people, is meaningless. The fact that, after she adopted these ideals, Bernie Sanders offered Clinton an official endorsement did, however, have an impact.

Sanders' supporters, often profiled as young people, blue-collar workers, or other caricatures of liberal personas, would not offer their support to Clinton until Sanders did, as well.   A unified Democratic Party platform did not matter. In fact, an official document for the 2016 Democratic platform has not been released.

Clearly, voters are not looking into platforms to make their decisions.  Perhaps platform advocates could argue that the exercise of outlining policies and beliefs is beneficial for candidates and party delegates.

Wrong. Writing political platforms is a waste of time and money that could be allocated elsewhere in the campaigning process.

Political Scientist Teri Fine, a professor at the University of Central Florida, notes that "the nominee knows that he cannot be punished or rewarded for following the party platform."  Once a candidate is elected president, he or she is free to make any policy decision that he or she sees fit.  Presidents are not bound to platforms like contracts, and parties, therefore, should not be bound to writing out these seemingly useless documents.

According to The New York Times, 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole admitted to the American public that even he did not read the GOP platform at any point during his active campaign.

Though each party releases a new write-up on where officials stand with respect to different issues every four years, it would seem that the American people have already begun to vote the way that they should: based on the candidate who they feel will make better judgment calls during an actual presidency.

If a candidate is not bound to his or her party’s platform, how can the American people reasonably vote based on a list of empty promises?  The more informed and more intelligent way to vote is to choose the candidate with better judgment.

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that voters already have this mindset. Of those polled, 77 percent of Trump’s supporters said that Clinton has poor judgment, while 79 percent of Clinton supporters say that Trump has poor judgment. 

What will these voters do in November? They will vote for the candidate whom they believe has better judgment.

Party platforms are useless for candidates and voters. For further convincing, try to locate any individual waiting for the release of either party’s documents later this month.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Brookings, The New York Times, SALON, PRC, The Washington Post, Vox / Photo credit: DonkeyHotey/Flickr

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