Very few voters read platforms. Exit polls in 1994 showed that a majority of voters had never heard of the Contract With America, let alone read it — and the LP Platform won't be announced on the Capitol steps by almost half of Congress. The Platform is not a campaign commercial or trifold brochure. No sane party hands out its Platform as its first contact with a voter. That would be like a car salesman handing you the car's manual when he comes up to shake your hand. But selling cars still requires being able to show the manual, because an important fraction of buyers are going to have questions about particular features of the car. However, almost no buyer is going to want to read the manual cover-to-cover. A Platform is reference material, a systematic summary of what we believe. The primary audience of party platforms is not the average voter, but rather:
- opinion leaders, especially journalists and academics;
- leaders of interest groups;
- policy makers, like government staffers; and
The Platform isn't our voter pitch, it's our policy stand. The purpose of a third-party platform is to tell opinion leaders what positions the party defends or doesn't defend. Even for opinion leaders, the platform of a third party is less of a pitch than is a major-party platform. The platform of a third party like the Greens or Libertarians is much more constant across election cycles than are the major-party platforms, and so are written much more like reference material. Yes, the nanny-state parties write brochure-like platforms, but they are aimed squarely at journalists and opinion leaders (despite being written in language they might hope will be quoted in sound bites to average voters). They don't need a long-lived reference document about their principles because 1) they don't have any and 2) everybody already knows what interest groups they pander to. Instead, they talk about what they actually did in the last four years and what they plausibly might accomplish in the next four years — neither of which the LP can talk about.
The Platform just needs to be a reference tool for — and to remove obstacles confronting — our sales force (the candidates) and the opinion leaders who evaluate them. Too many of us fantasize (as I sometimes do) about the Platform being a sales tool, whose cover-to-cover reading will make the scales fall from voters' eyes. The Platform Committee should not try to be a sales or marketing team. Those are important jobs and some people here may be very good at them, but they aren't the role of a Platform Committee. We are not going to be writing any spells or incantations with magical powers of persuasion — especially not through a process that involves authoring by a committee of 20+ members, barred from doing official drafting work except in person, constrained to modify the brochure only once every two years, with a mandatory plank structure, mandatory Statement of Principles prefix, 7/8 hypermajority approval of changes to the SoP, mandatory retention of the previous brochure, a minority report system for dissenting drafts, complicated token-based plank retention voting, per-plank 2/3 approval of all changes via 15-minute debates among hundreds of delegates, optional challenge to the Judicial Committee, and mandatory binding of our presidential ticket to its every provision. We already have many examples of such spells already tuned to the speaker, the audience, the medium, the locale, and other circumstances. Our sales force — our candidates — do not need a one-size-fits-all script written for them. They will adjust their sales pitch to their audience no matter what we do or don't do. Our job is to describe for them the direction and rough outline of the broad path we want them to point out to their audience — and that we want our competitors to grapple with, and neutral opinion leaders to evaluate.