Here are the primary party platforms for this election year (in alphabetical order by party name):
Strong at Home, Respected in the World: 2004 Democratic Party Platform (PDF)
2004 Green Party Platform
2004 Libertarian Party Platform
2004 Republican Party Platform: A Safer World and a More Hopeful America (PDF)
OK, I just have to say this about the Democratic and Republican party platforms: is it just me or is there something really silly about naming the party platform, particularly with an absurd title like "Strong at Home, Respected in the World" or "A Safer World and a More Hopeful America"? It seems much wiser just to title one's platform: Such-and-Such Party Platform.
As a matter of organization, the Libertarians win hands down; I really like the recursive Issue-Principle-Solutions-Transitional Action structure; it puts down in succinct terms exactly what a party platform should give its voters. The Executive Summary was a great idea, too. The Greens are a distant second; and I really don't know what the Republicans and Democrats were thinking when they put their platforms together.
The Republicans have the most striking preamble; they can appeal to Lincoln and abolition. It's hard to top that. Or is that the introduction rather than the preamble? It's the one flaw in the opening of the Republican platform that it puts into three distinct parts elements that could easily have been unified. The Libertarians are a close second. The Greens are next; it looks better in PDF than HTML, since it's clearer what goes where. The Democrats really fell off the horse, I think, because theirs seems just silly - surely they could have come up with something more original than words from the Pledge of Allegiance, or at least developed a better way to integrate it into the content of the preamble itself? As it is, it just hangs out there, looking forced and - well, silly. In terms of quality of writing in the preamble, the Libertarians are first (since they are the only party who actually made their preamble a real preamble), followed by the Republicans (a close second; if they had unified it a bit they might have topped the Libertarians), then the Greens; and, not surprisingly, the Democrats limp behind, the bad-preamble-writing Donkeys!
As to general informativeness, the Libertarians win again, followed closely by the Greens. They each have different strengths in this department. The Republicans (at 92 pages) and the Democrats (at 43 pages) are much more verbose, but you try figuring out what work the words are doing. I would have to rate the Republicans over the Democrats on this, however, because while a hefty bulk of the Republican 92 pages talks about what Republicans have done the past four years, an inordinate amount of space in the Democratic 43 pages is devoted to talking about what the Republicans have done the past four years. It might have saved them time and paper if they had just written a section on the Bush Administration, set off on its own, summarizing everything in bulleted list form, instead of spending so much time on every issue talking (rather vaguely) about how horrible Bush is. I have occasionally read Democrats complaining about being labeled simply anti-Bush rather than pro-Kerry; but the party platform is clearly more anti-Bush than pro-Kerry.
As for statement of principles, the Green Party's Ten Key Values were a great idea; but I think the Libertarians have a somewhat neater, cleaner statement of their principles, so I would be inclined to give them first prize here, with a special mention to the Greens. Democrats and Republicans apparently have no principles.
In terms of internet accessibility, the Libertarians and Greens were intelligent enough to put their platforms in both HTML and PDF; the Democrats and Republicans seem to have just done PDF - perhaps because they go on and on and on. Between the Libertarians and the Greens on the HTML version, the Libertarians have the prettier webpage; the Greens have a webpage that's a rather ugly green. It makes sense (Green-green) but it could have been done much better. The Libertarian page also has the best design of the party platform pages, followed by the Greens. The Democratic Platform Page is really rather poor; but they beat out the Republicans on this one, given that the GOP doesn't have a platform page but just a tiny link hidden like a needle in a haystack on their main page.
Miscellaneous special mentions:
** The Republicans have a nice epitaph - the tribute to Reagan on the very front; they also give quotations from Bush at the headings of the major sections.
** The Greens indexed their party platform. If you want to know what the Greens think about factory trawlers, it's easy to find. This is a great idea.
** Am I reading too much into this, or is there something rather fitting about the Libertarian Party being very spartan and no-frills in the presentation of its platform? Tasteful, but unobtrusive.
** I was afraid that the only special mention I would be able to give the Democratic platform would be to mention that their drafting committee needs to be knocked upside their heads. But I did find one special mention for them: the Democrats have the nicest cover sheet graphic. So I suppose somebody did a good job.
** Although, to be fair, the Democrats do have one thing the other parties don't. It's not in the platform itself, but they do have a link from their platform page to "interactive platform submissions," which is a truly stellar idea. The FAQ is also fairly good; if the writing in the platform had been half as good as the answer to the first question, the Democrats would have given the Libertarians a run for their money. I recommend that Democrats ditch Strong at Home, Respected in the World and just go with that answer.
The Brandon Watson Best Party Platform Award goes to: The Libertarian Party. Unfortunately, no prize money goes with the award, because we have had our government subsidies cut. Perhaps they can make up for it on the free market by giving lessons to the other parties in how to write a good party platform.