campaign 2012

Do Political Conventions Even Matter Anymore?

Chaz Rodgees, left, Myrtis Evans, center, and Addie D. Allen, delegates from Texas, cheer during day two of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. Democratic officials have moved President Barack Obama's nomination acceptance speech tomorrow night to the Time Warner Cable Arena from the larger, outdoor Bank of America Stadium because of the possibility of severe weather.
Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A lot of ink has been spilled the past two weeks covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. But in this day and age, do political conventions even matter anymore? Though both the Obama and Romney campaigns spent their respective conventions attempting to crystalize their platform, it’s unlikely that either swayed many undecided voters. As the New York Times reports today, even the campaigns themselves don’t seem to think so.

There was a day where these conventions were covered much more intensively, there was less to watch on TV and voters were more open,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “But now, by the time the conventions took place, 90 percent of voters are locked in.”

The main reason might be because — Clint’s chair speech not withstanding — the conventions have become totally predictable. Viewers who tuned into either one knew that President Obama wanted to persuade voters that he is a fighter who knows what it will take to see his job through, while Governor Romney intended to paint the President as the main reason why America is struggling. And for the most part, that’s what each candidate did, though effectiveness varied. But voters, undecided and on either side of the political divide already knew this. We live in a 24-hour news cycle, where each politician’s every statement, political or otherwise, is going to be parsed over time and time again. Plus, as Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser to Romney pointed out, more political ads were run before the convention than during all of 2008. When there’s nothing new to be gleaned from the convention, what purpose do the events where once, long ago the candidates were actually chosen serve?

I think they have absolutely no impact on election results whatsoever,” said Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University in Washington. “And people are catching on these conventions don’t matter. They are just daylong infomercials. People are beginning to realize that.”

So, if the conventions don’t sway voters, how will either campaign ensure victory in November? They’ll have to go about it the old fashion way most likely. Just today the Republican National Committee announced they have reached out to over 20 million potential voters this cycle, either over the phone or in person. Plus, the candidate could just try to be likable. Sticking to the facts, clearly expressing policy positions and just seeming like an actual human being can take you a long way in an election. After all, just like in high school, it’s all a popularity contest, isn’t it?

Do Political Conventions Even Matter Anymore?