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Why Convention Hoopla Matters

Binyamin Rose

When gavels falls, popularity rises at media showcases for nominees, party leaders, and platforms

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


Republicans get to draw first blood when they convene their national convention at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

The four-month-long presidential caucus and primary season that began in the snowy wilds of Iowa and concluded in bright California sunshine is either cause for a sigh of relief, or agony to voters perplexed over the problematic choices facing them in November.

The scene shifts now to the final two venues where the Republicans and Democrats will officially coronate their nominees. 

The Republican National Convention will take place in Cleveland, on the breezy shores of Lake Erie starting July 18, while the Democrats, who battled it out to the bitter end, will try and make amends in the City of Brotherly Love — Philadelphia — a week later. 

philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center will be the scene of the Democratic National Convention the last week in July.

Many people ask: Why bother with all the convention hoopla in this day and age, considering each party has a presumptive nominee, and the politicians tweet each other mercilessly day and night? 

They have a point. Most conventions merely ratify a clear winner. 

You would have to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits to remember the 1952 Democratic convention, when it took Adlai Stevenson three ballots to clinch his party’s nomination on the convention floor. 

There were two relatively recent nail-biters; in 1976 when President Ford narrowly beat back a challenge from Ronald Reagan, and in 1984 when Walter Mondale edged out Gary Hart. 

On the other hand, contemporary national nominating conventions afford political parties a media-rich, four-day showcase for their nominees, party leaders, and platforms. 

“As the conventions have evolved into media events, the traditional format of past years has been replaced by a television-friendly script designed for a prime-time audience each night,” notes Kevin Coleman, analyst for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. 

And the mainstream media still has clout, despite the social media era in which we live, with its overabundance of scoffers and amateurs whose 140-character bytes are smoke and mirrors compared to the professional work of reporters and editors with real field experience. 

Before the previous presidential election, two University of Wisconsin professors, Joseph Cera and Aaron Weinschenk, authored a paper in American Politics Research, arguing that focused information delivered to the electorate during the conventions, in the form of speeches by the candidates and their closest supporters, had a clear, persuasive, and favorable impact and provided a partisan bias, known as the “post-convention bounce,” that adds momentum to fall campaigns. 

“This emergent bias must be the result of the partisanship-soaked atmosphere surrounding the speeches — the convention hoopla,” according to Weinschenk and Cera. 

Part of the hoopla comes from the drama of whom the presumptive presidential nominee will select as a running mate. In recent election cycles, nominees have tended to publicize their pick early, although Donald Trump has already said he will string out his announcement until the convention. 

The other potential for a last-minute spectacle stems from the relative unpopularity of each of the presumptive nominees. 

On the Democratic side, at press time, Hillary Clinton was on the verge of locking up all the delegates she needed to raise her arms in victory, but Bernie Sanders was not conceding anything. 

“Stubborn contenders have the option to take their fight to the convention floor, where delegate commitments can dissipate after initial balloting rounds,” notes Dr. Costas Panagopoulos, director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University. 

On the Republican side of the aisle, while it seems as if nothing Donald Trump said or did could come back to haunt him during the divisive primary season, general election campaigns are less forgiving. While the anti-Trump Republicans proved incompetent in fielding a candidate to oppose him, they still grasp at the straw that the Donald might implode, given his political inexperience, and the pressures of a head-to-head campaign on the national stage. 

“In the extreme, even presumptive nominees may stumble seriously or be otherwise imperiled in the period between the end of the primaries and the convention, leaving only the delegates at the convention to respond,” Dr. Panagopoulos says. “The possibility alone of such developments implies [that] conventions retain, at the very least, the capacity to serve as decisive and determinative political events in the process of presidential selection.” 

In that respect, politics is no different from a sports championship match. No matter how heavily favored a team might be, the players still have to suit up, the stadium lights are always turned up bright, and the players have got to play the game until the final whistle.

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