In our political system, deciding who you should vote for is pretty simple: 1) read the Platform for both major political parties, 2) consider whose priorities and policies you agree with most, and 3) vote for the candidates from that party.
But few voters ever read the platforms. Instead they base their decisions on the never-ending stream of emotional campaign commercials and negative attack ads and use this skewed information to determine which person is the best for the job.
A platform-based approach is much wiser (for reasons explained below). This is why I have created a guide to help you cast an informed vote. It provides a side-by-side comparison summarizing where the Democrats and Republicans stand on 14 key issues — according to their official platforms. I’ve tried to be as fair as possible and have included excerpts from the actual documents so you can see for yourself. Just click on an issue from the table below to see how the parties differ. Take me there now…
Why Voting by Platform Makes Sense
Why is basing your vote on the Party whose platform best reflects your interests and ideals, rather than on your opinions about the individual candidate and her or his character, the most rational way to cast your vote (in the general election)? Here are two reasons:
You’ll never know a candidate’s character from watching their ads or reading their promotional materials, let alone by listening to what their opponent says about them. And you’re never going to have a beer with them. Campaigns today are essentially sophisticated (and expensive) marketing efforts designed to make you feel good about one candidate and turned off by the other Conclusions you draw about candidates based on their marketing materials reflects how effective their efforts were, not how “informed” they made you. One of the few things you can know for certain about any candidate is their party affiliation. And they were endorsed because they support that party’s platform.
Even if you could somehow divine a candidate’s “true” character from their ads, it doesn’t matter much anyway. Because in our political system, at the federal, state and even the local level, the party with a majority of members gets to enact their agenda — not the elected officials with the best character or nicest smiles. It’s the majority party, or the winning team, that gets to to run the government. And what do they do when they are running the government? Well, they enact the goals spelled out in their party’s platform!
So cast your votes with this in mind: you may be voting for an individual candidate but whoever wins will join a “team” in Congress, the State Legislature, the County Board, or the City Council. Whichever team has a majority will be able to pass the agenda that is spelled out in their party’s platform. So don’t cast a vote for someone just because you like the way they look or against someone because you think they’re boring. Your vote may enable that good-looking candidate to enact policies that you oppose while that dull dude would have pushed for policies you support. Don’t be fooled, vote for the platform that you’d like to see enacted.
If you have the time, I encourage you to read each party platform in full — if you’re like me you’ll be amazed at what you learn. Here are direct links to the Democratic and Republican Platforms in their entirety. If you don’t have time to read all of them, at least check out the “Preamble” of each platform, which gives you a good sense of the priorities and world-view of the respective Parties. You can also read the platforms of the parties at the state level, but they probably won’t differ too much from the party’s national platform.
Republicans Favor a fetus’ right to life and oppose federal funding to health providers that provide abortions – specifically Planned Parenthood [expand title=”Read Excerpt”]“We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth….We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare….“We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.
Democrats Favor a women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion; support Planned Parenthood. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]“We believe unequivocally… that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing. We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion (p.33).”
Republicans support diversion programs for nonviolent first time offenders, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the death penalty. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“The constitutionality of the death penalty is firmly settled by its explicit mention in the Fifth Amendment….we condemn the Supreme Court’s erosion of the right of the people to enact capital punishment in their states…. we call for mandatory prison time for all assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers (p.40).”
Democrats favor removing marijuana from Schedule 1 category of controlled substances and creating paths to its future legalization. Oppose private prisons and detention centers; oppose use of “weapons of war” by police; racial profiling by law enforcement. Favor restoring voting rights of ex-convicts and oppose the death penalty. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration (p.13)….We will end racial profiling….We should report national data on policing strategies and provide greater transparency and accountability (p. 14)….We will abolish the death penalty (p. 15).”
Republicans seek alternatives to public schools including vouchers, private charter schools and state support for private schools. Advocate for (Christian) religion in school curricula. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“[The Republican party] recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education. … A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools. (p. 33).”
“We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits (p.34).”
“We support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior (p.34)”.
Democrats generally defend traditional public schools and teachers, oppose high-stakes standardized testing and oppose channeling public funds to private and for-profit schools.[expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers (p.29)”.
“We support democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources (p. 30).”
Environment and Climate Change
Republicans Oppose government regulations and government involvement in addressing climate change. Support fossil fuel industry, especially coal. Generally view climate change concerns as exaggerated and based on politically motivated science (see pp. 17-22) [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue….We support the development of all forms of energy that are marketable in a free economy without subsidies, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower (p.20)….We will likewise forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, something never envisioned when Congress passed the Clean Air Act (p. 21).”
Democrats view climate change as a critical issue. Seek greater regulations to address it and promote development of clean energy (wind, solar) [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time….Democrats share a deep commitment to tackling the climate challenge…reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050; and meeting the pledge ….Democrats reject the notion that we have to choose between protecting our planet and creating good-paying jobs. We can and we will do both….We are committed to getting 50 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources within a decade (p.24).”
“Democrats believe that climate change is too important to wait for climate deniers and defeatists in Congress to start listening to science, and support using every tool available to reduce emissions now (p.25).”
Republicans oppose gay marriage and seek to overturn Supreme Court ruling that established it. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“The cornerstone of the family is natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman….Our laws and our government’s regulations should recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman and actively promote married family life (p. 31)….We do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and we urge its reversal, whether through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment returning control over marriage to the states (p. 32).”
Democrats support gay marriage and LGBT rights [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats applaud last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people—like other Americans—have the right to marry the person they love…. Democrats will fight for the continued development of sex discrimination law to cover LGBT people (p. 17).”
“Democrats believe that LGBT rights are human rights and that American foreign policy should advance the ability of all persons to live with dignity, security, and respect, regardless of who they are or who they love (41).”
Republicans Oppose most gun-control measures [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“We also oppose any effort to deprive individuals of their right to keep and bear arms without due process of law (p. 12)”
Democrats Favor stricter gun control measures [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats believe that we must finally take sensible action to address gun violence, … we will expand and strengthen background check and close dangerous loopholes in our current laws; repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) to revoke the dangerous legal immunity protections gun makers and sellers now enjoy; and keep weapons of war—such as assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines … off our streets (p. 39).”
Republicans Oppose the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Favor market-based approaches to providing health care with government playing a limited role. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“[Affordable Care Act] must be removed and replaced with an approach based on genuine competition, patient choice, excellent care, wellness, and timely access to treatment…. It is time to repeal Obamacare and give America a much-needed tax cut (p.36)….Consumer choice is the most powerful factor in healthcare reform…. We look to the growth of Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Accounts that empower patients and advance choice in healthcare (pp 36-37).”
Democrats Defend the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Favor expanding access to healthcare and see government as playing a key role. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats believe that health care is a right, not a privilege, and our health care system should put people before profits….We took a critically important step toward the goal of universal health care by passing the Affordable Care Act… Democrats will never falter in our generations-long fight to guarantee health care as a fundamental right for every American.
“Americans should be able to access public coverage through a public option, and those over 55 should be able to opt in to Medicare (p.31).”
Republicans support changes to traditional college education; endorse private-for-profit colleges and oppose efforts to regulate them; Support private-sector financing of student loan debt. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools: Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector. Public policy should advance their affordability, innovation, and transparency and should recognize that a four-year degree from a brick-and-mortar institution is not the only path toward a prosperous and fulfilling career (p. 35)”.
The federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans. In order to bring down college costs and give students access to a multitude of financing options, private sector participation in student financing should be restored (p. 35).
Democrats support plans for free community college education and debt-free college, and cracking down on for-profit colleges that prey on students. Support student loan refinancing and other debt relief programs. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats believe that in America, if you want a higher education, you should always be able to get one: money should never stand in the way. Cost should not be a barrier to getting a degree or credential, and debt should not hold you back after you graduate ….Democrats are unified in their strong belief that every student should be able to go to college debt-free, and working families should not have to pay any tuition to go to public colleges and universities….We will also make community college free (p.27).”
Republicans Emphasize support for legal immigration but much less supportive for undocumented immigrants. Favor stricter enforcement of existing laws, tougher penalties for violations, and making English the official language. Oppose amnesty for immigrants already in the U.S.; support building a border wall between U.S. and Mexico [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“the presence of millions of unidentified individuals in this country poses grave risks to the safety and sovereignty of the United States. Our highest priority, therefore, must be to secure our borders and all ports of entry and to enforce our immigration laws….That is why we support building a wall along our southern border and protecting all ports of entry. The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. (p. 26).”
Democrats Seek reform to immigration policy. Generally more receptive to refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants living in U.S. without documentation. Support policies supporting undocumented immigrant children (DACA) and undocumented immigrant parents whose children are U.S. citizens (DAPA) and favor a “path toward citizenship” [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats believe we need to urgently fix our broken immigration system…and create a path to citizenship for law-abiding families who are here…We will defend and implement President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans executive actions to help DREAMers, parents of citizens, and lawful permanent residents avoid deportation (p. 15).”
“We will end raids and roundups of children and families, which unnecessarily sow fear in immigrant communities. … ensure due process for those fleeing violence in Central America …. We reject attempts to impose a religious test to bar immigrants or refugees from entering the United States (p.16).”
Republicans support raising the eligibility age of Medicare and prefer shifting it to private health insurance markets. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“We propose these reforms: Impose no changes for persons 55 or older. Give others the option of traditional Medicare or transition to a premium-support model…. Guarantee every enrollee an income-adjusted contribution toward a plan of their choice, with catastrophic protection….set a more realistic age for eligibility in light of today’s longer life span (p.24).”
Democrats favor strengthening and expanding Medicare. Oppose cutting it, or limiting coverage or privatizing it. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Those over 55 should be able to opt in to Medicare ….Democrats will fight any attempts by Republicans in Congress to privatize, voucherize, or “phase out” Medicare as we know it (p. 31).”
Republicans oppose raising Federal minimum wage [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level (p. 8).”
Democrats support raising Federal minimum wage to $15/hour and to index it to increase with inflation. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats believe that the current minimum wage… must be increased to a living wage. No one who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty. We believe that Americans should earn at least $15 an hour and have the right to form or join a union and will work in every way we can—in Congress and the federal government, in states and with the private sector—to reach this goal (p. 3).”
“We should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it [to inflation], give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy so every worker can earn at least $15 an hour (pp. 3-4).”
Republicans favor reforms to Social Security that shift resources to markets (e.g. “privatizing” it) [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“As Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in the power of markets to create wealth and to help secure the future of our Social Security system (pp.24-25).”
Democrats view Social Security as a successful program. Oppose changes that reduce benefits. Favor tax increases on wealthy to protect it [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“We will fight every effort to cut, privatize, or weaken Social Security, including attempts to raise the retirement age, diminish benefits… or reducing earned benefits. Democrats will expand Social Security so that every American can retire with dignity and respect….[protect it] by asking those at the top to pay more, and will achieve this goal by taxing some of the income of people above $250,000 (pp. 5-6).”
Republicans Oppose unions [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“We support the right of states to enact Right-to-Work laws and call for a national law to protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce….Republicans believe that the employer- employee relationship of the future will be built upon employee empowerment and workplace flexibility. We therefore endorse employee stock ownership plans that enable workers to become capitalists, expand the realm of private property, and energize a free enterprise economy (p.8).”
Democrats Generally support unions [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats will make it easier for workers, public and private, to exercise their right to organize and join unions….Democrats believe so-called “right to work” laws are wrong for workers… [and] will continue to vigorously oppose those laws…We oppose legislation and lawsuits that would strike down laws protecting the rights of teachers and other public employees (p. 4).”
Voting Rights and Elections
Republicans believe voting fraud is a serious problem and support stricter voting requirements to combat it. They also defend the Electoral College system of electing presidents and oppose efforts to elect presidents by popular vote. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“We support legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting. We strongly oppose litigation against states exercising their sovereign authority to enact such laws ….We oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and any other scheme to abolish or distort the procedures of the Electoral College….We urge our elected representatives to ensure that citizenship, rather than mere residency, be made the basis of representation among the states (p. 16).”
Democrats generally want to make it easier for people to vote. They view stricter voting laws that Republicans support as efforts to suppress the turnout of groups who tend to vote for Democrats. Favor campaign finance reform and a constitutional amendment to overturn “Citizens United” decision. [expand title=”Read Excerpt“]
“Democrats believe we must make it easier to vote, not harder…. We must restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. We will [expand] early voting and vote-by-mail, implementing universal automatic voter registration and same day voter registration, ending partisan and racial gerrymandering, and making Election Day a national holiday. We will restore voting rights for those who have served their sentences. And we will continue to fight against discriminatory voter identification laws, which disproportionately burden young voters, diverse communities, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, the elderly, and women. (p. 22).”
“Big money is drowning out the voices of everyday Americans, and we must have the necessary tools to fight back and safeguard our electoral and political integrity (p. 22)….Democrats support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo. We need to end secret, unaccountable money in politics by requiring, through executive order or legislation, significantly more disclosure and transparency (p.23).”