[AllPolitics - DNC '96 Facts]

Past Democratic Platforms

A quick look at highlights of recent Democratic platforms since 1976, plus the full text of the 1988 and 1992 platforms


The 1992 platform represented Bill Clinton's centrist campaign themes (his so-called "New Covenant"), strongly influenced by the moderate Democratic Leadership Council and its think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute. R.W. Apple Jr. of the New York Times called the 10,000-word document a "sharp departure from the party's practice since the New Deal ... speaking often of market forces and personal responsibility." There was little debate over the platform, with only primary challenger Paul Tsongas offering amendments -- all of which were defeated. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown also wanted Clinton to adopt a "humility agenda" consisting of campaign finance and other political reforms. However, Brown did hot have enough delegates to force a vote. (His delegates waved signs that said "Not!" to protest the platform.)

ECONOMIC: The 1992 platform, according to former Rep. Barbara Jordan, represented a philosophical change in the Democratic party from "tax and spend" to "investment and growth." The economic planks in the platform called for stimulating economic growth by "stimulating both public and private investment." As a part of this, it called for a "future budget" to pay for improved transportation and information infrastructure. The platform rejected both the "do-nothing government of the last 12 years" and "the big government theory that says we can hamstring business and tax and spend our way to prosperity." Notable Tsongas amendments rejected by the Clinton delegates included limits to government spending on entitlements; a five-cent per gallon gasoline tax; and a call to postpone any middle-class tax cut until the deficit was under control. Note that all of these amendments became issues Clinton had to grapple with at the beginning of the 1996 presidential campaign.

SOCIAL: The platform included traditional positions such as abortion rights and homosexual rights. But it also called for a two-year limit to welfare benefits and approved of the death penalty (if states chose) to deter serious crime. The platform also called for a "Domestic GI Bill." The proposal became Clinton's Americorps, which gives college money to students in return for performance of community service. The Democratic platform also endorsed former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp's proposal of tenant ownership of public housing projects.

INTERNATIONAL: The most notable language on international policy included an attack on the Bush administration for waiting too long to "oppose aggression in the former communist countries, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina." (Source: CQ Guide to U.S. Elections, Washington Post 7/19/92, NY Times 7/15/92)


The 1988 platform was approved without the rancor of 1980 and was a much more streamlined document than the 1984 platform. Democrats realized the intra-party skirmishes over past platforms had hurt their nominee in the fall. This time, Democrats set major disagreements aside in hopes of victory. The Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, wanted a platform that reflected general Democratic themes but not detailed programs and special interest commitments. Dukakis hoped to erase the image Democrats had acquired of being captive of special interest groups. Political analysts Jack Germond and Jules Whitcover called the document "unprecendently brief" and said that it "reaffirms the basis of party faith in government as an active engine of change." Primary challenger Jesse Jackson met with Dukakis before the convention to iron out their differences over the platform. On the floor of the convention, Jackson easily won approval of nine amendments that dealt with Central American military policy; support of a national health care program; increased spending on education; and an end to missile testing.

ECONOMIC: Unlike previous platforms, the economic planks in the 1988 platform contained no major program proposals and did not stray philosophically from previous Democratic platforms. Dukakis won a major victory when he defeated a Jackson proposal to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Denver Mayor Federico Pena (now President Clinton's Transportation Secretary) said of the proposal, "Let's not tie (Dukakis') hands with a tax increase."

SOCIAL: Under the plank titled "Individual Rights" the Democrats continued support for numerous liberal social provisions, including abortion rights and homosexual rights. However, the platform diplomatically dealt with the controversial issue of government-funded abortions. Rather than clearly supporting Medicaid-covered abortions, the platform promised "freedom of reproductive choice should be guaranteed regardless of ability to pay."

INTERNATIONAL: There were no new significant additions to the international relations plank, but two issues on that topic caused the most debate at the convention. Jesse Jackson's nuclear strategy plank, which reinforced the Democratic party's commitment to peace, was hotly debated and eventually defeated. The issue of Palestinian rights (the convention's most divisive issue) was debated but Arab-American activist James Zogby agreed to pull the amendment without a vote. (CQ Guide to U.S. Elections, National Journal 8/13/88, NY Times 6/27/88)


The 1984 platform, unlike 1980, did not spur divisive debate at the convention. It was considered more conservative economically than previous platforms (Democratic nominee Walter Mondale said there was a "New Realism" to the document) but still called for activist government. The platform took much from former Vice President Walter Mondale's campaign and wove in challenger Jesse Jackson's "Rainbow Coalition" language and Senator Gary Hart's "New Ideas." To avoid a fight on the convention floor, Democrats included the views of numerous interest groups gathered during four months of hearings. At the convention, the platform was adopted after only four hours of debate, compared to 17 hours for the contentious 1980 convention. The Democratic platform strongly attacked the Reagan administration's policies and promised an "activist government." It also united Mondale, Hart and Jackson, the three candidates for the Democratic nomination.

ECONOMIC: The platform was economically more conservative than previous conventions.It called for no new social spending programs but included more detailed (and lengthy) language on the issue of trade. Democratic nominee Walter Mondale said, "There are no defense cuts that weaken our security, no business taxes that weaken our economy, no laundry lists that raid our Treasury." However, the platform endorsed a tax increase on corporations and individuals making more than $60,000 a year to help reduce the deficit.

SOCIAL: The platform called for smaller and less expensive social policies than previous years. However, it was decidedly more liberal on social issues than previous platforms, elaborating on homosexual rights (which had its own plank) and abortion rights. Jesse Jackson won a compromise on his affirmative action plan. The adopted language specifically did not include quotas, but called for a timetable to eliminate discrimination in educational institutions and the workplace.

INTERNATIONAL: Except for some debate over nuclear arms control, there was little discussion on international policy at the Democratic convention. The platform did contain a detailed policy on Central America for the first time. (Sources: Washington Post 8/18/84, New York Times 7/22/84, CQ Guide to U.S. Elections)


Carter's primary challenger, Sen. Ted Kennedy, won several major concessions on the wording of the 1980 platform. Most of the concessions were won on the economic and human needs sections. The platform battle lasted 17 hours over two days. The final result was so watered down from what Carter wanted the president gave it a notably weak endorsement. Many analysts said the platform appealed to traditional Democratic constituencies but risked alienating the middle class.

ECONOMIC: Notable economic issues in the platform included a new Kennedy plank (opposed by Carter) stating that jobs are "our single highest domestic priority." Kennedy also won language calling for a $12-billion anti-recession program to create at least 800,000 new jobs. A final highlight in the economic plank included Kennedy language stating the Democratic party would not pursue a policy of high interest rates and unemployment as the means to fight inflation. The Democratic platform clearly stated opposition to a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

SOCIAL: The most significant element in the platform concerning social issues was language calling for federal funding of abortions. Carter personally opposed this, but said he would follow court decisions on the matter. The issue, and Carter's statement, did not create a commotion at the convention. An endorsement of gay rights was included in the platform, the first time such language has ever appeared in an American political platform. The language opposed discrimination based on "sexual orientation." The Democratic platform also called for more social programs, such as universal health insurance, and increased funding for education, which Carter planned to make a major issue in the fall campaign.

INTERNATIONAL: International affairs were major issues at the Democratic convention and provided no significant platform language. (Sources: National Journal 8/23/80, Washington Post 8/13/80)


The 1976 Democratic platform generally stated party goals and avoided listing detailed (and expensive) legislative proposals found in the 1972 document, which many called the most liberal platform ever. Carter also was careful to avoid the platform fights which hurt the party in 1968 and 1972. The platform was adopted with no serious debate.

ECONOMIC: The centerpiece of the Democratic economic platform was the full-employment language, calling to lower unemployment to three percent within four years. The platform also stated, "Direct government involvement in wage and price decisions may be required" and a "complete overhaul of the present tax system" was needed. One member of the platform committee told U.S News and World Report the economic plank avoided the "fringe ideas of the McGovern campaign."

SOCIAL: The only notable social provision in the 1976 platform was a promise to oppose a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe V. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling making abortion legal.

INTERNATIONAL: International affairs were not major issues for the Democratic party in 1976. However, the platform did contain specific language on detente with the USSR, Asia, China and the Panama Canal.

(Sources: CQ Guide to U.S. Elections; U.S. News and World Report 7/26/76; Business Week 6/28/76)

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