A political platform (also known as a party program, manifesto, or platform plank) is a set of principal goals supported by a political party or individual candidate. It is designed to appeal to the general public and garner support for complicated topics and issues. A political platform can be as short or as long as needed and contains opinions about each topic. Each opinion or viewpoint is often described as a plank — a reference to the basic stage of a theatre which is constructed of planks.
A party can have many different platforms for various reasons. A major one is that parties need to communicate with their constituents in order to connect them with the government. This enables citizens to translate their concerns into political issues for politicians to address.
Each national party has a committee that creates the party’s platform. The committee is usually composed of major party figures and representatives of interest groups closely tied to the party. The committee meets throughout the spring and summer before the parties’ conventions. The president, who is the leader of the party in office and therefore has great influence on the platform, often has a large hand in the final product.
The Democratic Party released its platform draft in July. As a historical matter, a party’s platform has been a vital clue about how that party will spend your tax dollars if it wins the presidency and controls Congress.
Since the formation of the first American political parties in the 1790s, our country has operated on a two-party system with competing major political parties and their ideologically distinct platforms. Despite the many controversies that have surrounded our country’s electoral process, the party platforms have survived and remain an important component of our democracy.
A political party’s platform provides a comprehensive snapshot of the views of its members on an array of issues, from terrorism to reproductive rights. As a teaching tool, students can learn more about these positions by using a web-based tool such as the “Political Party Platform Explorer,” which allows users to select the country in question and browse through the various policy statements. Alternatively, teachers can have their students break up into pairs and have them read the platforms of each major party. Then, ask them to discuss which of these policies they would vote for and why. Finally, hold a class discussion to compare and contrast their answers. The goal is to help students appreciate the impact that political parties can have on our democracy. This lesson is adapted from the “Political Party Platform Explorer,” by Emily S. Kahn, an instructor in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. The original version of this lesson was published in April 2012. It is available at no charge through a Creative Commons license. This material can be used in non-commercial, educational settings and requires attribution to the author and a link back to this article.