Codebook for my database of 3,392 planks in all 45 Democratic Platforms, 1840-2016

 

I made available 3,392 Democratic Party platform planks that I culled from over 400,000 words in all 45 existing Democratic platforms from 1840 to 2016. I prepared the database for writing The Democratic Evolution: From Slavery to Equality: 1828-2024 (forthcoming). That bookk analyzed changes in Democratic planks over time as the party evolved across three eras––from States-Rights (1828-1896), to Cooperative Federalism (1900-1948), to National Authority (1952-2024––as the party moved from defending slavery to pursuing equality.

The Democratic platforms grew in length from about 500 words in 1840 to a peak of more than 38,000 words in 1980. Most of a party platform spouts political verbiage––praising the party and denouncing the opposition. I read through the verbiage to select specific segments that (a) had action implications, and (b) stated or clearly implied the party's position on the issue. If the original wording was short (under 100 characters), it was captured in the database. For example, the Democrats' 1948 platform contained this plank: advocate federal aid for education administered by and under the control of the states, which took 86 character-spaces. Otherwise the passage was rephrased and shortened to fit the 100 character-spaces allotted for plank texts.

All planks were coded into a framework having over 100 codes spread over eight major categories. The primary categories reflected the three core political values of Freedom, Order, or Equality, or whether the planks promoted/inhibited the provision of Public Goods. These four concepts are explicated in Janda et al.,The Challenge of Democracy: American Government in G;obal Politics (2023), Chapter 1. A secondary set of four coding categories tagged planks on Government, Military, Foreign Policy, and Symbolic issues. Only about two-thirds of the planks were coded using the book's four primary categories, but appendices accounted for all 3,392 planks.

I designed my coding framework to study the party's evolution concerning values that I deemed important to democratic government. My codes may not be useful to other researchers, but they can read the planks and recode them. All Democratic planks were also tagged with more than 150 topic terms (e.g., taxation, Israel, fossil fuels), offering other ways for analyzing the data.

Identifying planks among the political verbiage is a subjective process. I detected 9 planks among the 536 words in the 1840 platform and 267 planks among the 26,058 words in its 2016 platform. (COVID prevented a convention in 2020 to adopt a party platform). Other researchers might have identified different planks in each platform and almost certainly would have found more, or fewer, than the 3,392 planks that I did. However, different sets of planks collected by other researchers are unlikely to differ much from mine.

To request an Excel file of the Democratic planks, please write me at k-janda@northwestern.edu, briefly mentioning your purpose and institutional affiliation.

Click on the links below for more on the planks