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 Read Excerpt
Democrats Favor a women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion; support Planned Parenthood. Read Excerpt
Republicans support diversion programs for nonviolent first time offenders, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the death penalty. Read Excerpt
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. Read Excerpt
Republicans seek alternatives to public schools including vouchers, private charter schools and state support for private schools. Advocate for (Christian) religion in school curricula. Read Excerpt
“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.Read Excerpt
“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) Read Excerpt
Democrats view climate change as a critical issue. Seek greater regulations to address it and promote development of clean energy (wind, solar) Read Excerpt
“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. Read Excerpt
Democrats support gay marriage and LGBT rights Read Excerpt
“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 Read Excerpt
Democrats Favor stricter gun control measures Read Excerpt
Republicans Oppose the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Favor market-based approaches to providing health care with government playing a limited role. Read Excerpt
Democrats Defend the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Favor expanding access to healthcare and see government as playing a key role. Read Excerpt
“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. Read Excerpt
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. Read Excerpt
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 Read Excerpt
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” Read Excerpt
“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. Read Excerpt
Democrats favor strengthening and expanding Medicare. Oppose cutting it, or limiting coverage or privatizing it. Read Excerpt
Republicans oppose raising Federal minimum wage Read Excerpt
Democrats support raising Federal minimum wage to $15/hour and to index it to increase with inflation. Read Excerpt
“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) Read Excerpt
Democrats view Social Security as a successful program. Oppose changes that reduce benefits. Favor tax increases on wealthy to protect it Read Excerpt
Republicans Oppose unions Read Excerpt
Democrats Generally support unions Read Excerpt
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. Read Excerpt
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. Read Excerpt
“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).”