Amid the balloons and the tensions on the floor of the conventions, it’s tempting to dismiss the parties’ platforms as musty, redundant, and, let’s not forget, long. But you should pay attention to the platforms this year, because they are tea leaves to help predict the murky future of both Republicans and Democrats.
Even in a normal election year, platforms can be a useful source of information about whether parties do what they promise to do. And some political science research is emerging that suggests that platform positions offer an important clue to the policies that U.S. parties, despite our separation of powers system, will enact. One study, recently reported by Vox, found that party members in Congress voted in line with their platforms more than 80 percent of the time.
This year, the Republican platform reversed years of support for free-trade policies, instead embracing Donald Trump’s more protectionist stances. For the Democrats, platform influence was one of the concessions extracted by the Bernie Sanders campaign, and Hillary Clinton’s forces accepted support for a minimum wage of $15, a carbon tax, and expansion of Social Security. The political science research offers a tentative argument that we might expect these changes to last.
Platforms also help political scientists understand how parties change. John Gerring, who used platforms as a major data source for his book on party ideologies, finds that once parties shift on big issues, such aslike the power of the federal government, those changes last for a while. Fairfield University political scientist Gwendoline Alphonso traces the changing language about families and well-being in Republican platforms and connects these changes to larger policy shifts.
American parties saw a couple of major transformations in the plast century that were reflected in platform fights: Iin 1948, …