The Democratic Platform Has Changed



The Democratic platform bears some of the hallmarks of the drive to the left that Sen. Bernie Sanders led this year on economic policy. And on social issues, the party has abandoned many of the views it held in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We compare and contrast highlights in this year’s Democratic platform with those of recent decades on the following issues:  guns, drugs, abortion, China, trade, gay marriage, higher education and health care.


Members of an Ohio militia group protest near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week.


2016: With 33,000 Americans dying every year, Democrats believe that we must finally take sensible action to address gun violence. While responsible gun ownership is part of the fabric of many communities, too many families in America have suffered from gun violence.

2008: We recognize that the right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans’ Second Amendment right to own and use firearms. We believe that the right to own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation, but we know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact and enforce commonsense laws and improvements—like closing the gun show loophole, improving our background check system, and reinstating the assault weapons ban, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals.

Analysis: Mass shootings and the erosion of Democratic support among rural voters have diminished the party’s willingness to be flexible on gun control.


Marijuana plants are a few weeks away from harvest at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill.


2016: The “war on drugs” has led to the imprisonment of millions of Americans, disproportionately people of color, without reducing drug use. Whenever possible, Democrats will prioritize prevention and treatment over incarceration when tackling addiction and substance use disorder. We will build on effective models of drug courts, veterans’ courts, and other diversionary programs that seek to give nonviolent offenders opportunities for rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration.

1988: We believe that illegal drugs pose a direct threat to the security of our nation from coast to coast, invading our neighborhoods, classrooms, homes and communities large and small; that every arm and agency of government at every federal, state and local level—including every useful diplomatic, military, educational, medical and law enforcement effort necessary—should at long last be mobilized and coordinated with private efforts under the direction of a National Drug “Czar” to halt both the international supply and the domestic demand for illegal drugs now ravaging our country; and that the legalization of illicit drugs would represent a tragic surrender in a war we intend to win.

Analysis: Democrats repudiated their past policies and now also call for a “reasoned pathway” to legalizing marijuana.


Demonstrators stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on June 27.


2016: We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, 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.

2004: Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman’s right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Analysis: Like Republicans, Democrats have been consistent on this issue.


Soldiers march during the opening day of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy Base at Stonecutter Island in Hong Kong on July 1.


2016: Democrats will push back against North Korean aggression and press China to play by the rules. We will stand up to Beijing on unfair trade practices, currency manipulation, censorship of the internet, piracy, and cyberattacks. And we will look for areas of cooperation, including on combatting climate change and nuclear proliferation.

1984: Our relationship with the People’s Republic of China must also be nurtured and strengthened. The Democratic Party believes that our developing relations with the PRC offer a historic opportunity to bring one quarter of the world’s population into the community of nations, to strengthen a counterweight to Soviet expansionism, and to enhance economic relations that offer great potential for mutual advantage.

Analysis: Democrats, like Republicans, have become more aggressive on China over time.


A container ship unloads its cargo in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif., in December 2015.


2016: Over the past three decades, America has signed too many trade deals that have not lived up to the hype. Trade deals often boosted the profits of large corporations, while at the same time failing to protect workers’ rights, labor standards, the environment, and public health. We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies that support jobs in America.

2012: Alongside Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, we are on track to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a historic high-standard agreement that will address new and emerging trade issues, lower barriers to the free flow of trade and investment, increase exports, and create more American jobs.

Analysis: The party’s populist influences have gained more power.


The Human Rights Campaign's flag, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil-rights organization, is waved on the steps of the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on July 1.


2016: 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. But there is still much work to be done.

2004: We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families. In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush’s divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a “Federal Marriage Amendment.”

Analysis: The party reversed itself on a federal right to same-sex marriage in about a decade.


People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore in July 2014.


2016: 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.

2008: We will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans. In exchange for the credit, students will be expected to perform community service.

Analysis: The party has gone from offering partial assistance to saying that college should be debt-free if not cheaper.



2016: Democrats will never falter in our generations-long fight to guarantee health care as a fundamental right for every American. As part of that guarantee, Americans should be able to access public coverage through a public option, and those over 55 should be able to opt in to Medicare.

1992: We will enact a uniquely American reform of the health care system to control costs and make health care affordable; ensure quality and choice of health care providers; cover all Americans regardless of preexisting conditions; squeeze out waste, bureaucracy and abuse; improve primary and preventive care including child immunization and prevention of diseases like Tuberculosis now becoming rampant in our cities; provide expanded education on the relationship between diet and health; expand access to mental health treatment services; provide a safety net through support of public hospitals; provide for the full range of reproductive choice—education, counseling, access to contraceptives, and the right to a safe, legal abortion; expand medical research; and provide more long term care, including home health care.

Analysis: After passing Obamacare—which met many of the goals Bill Clinton set out in 1992—Democrats continue to look to expand coverage.

Source: Democratic Party; the American Presidency Project, University of California Santa Barbara


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