With apologies to Joe Biden, the next few days could literally determine whether political conventions as we’ve come to know them will endure through the next presidential election cycle.
The old purpose of conventions – to choose a candidate by bringing together delegates loyal to local, state and regional power-brokers in a days-long process that often required multiple ballots to settle – gave way to modern, tightly scripted infomercial model a generation or two ago. The lack of suspense led broadcast networks to scale back their coverage, but the conventions continued to serve a valuable purpose for the parties, often producing significant polling bumps .
But in this same time, the parties have also sorted themselves out ideologically, creating more partisan polarization and fewer voters who might actually be swayed by what they see and hear during a convention. Mitt Romney’s failure to generate anything more than a very modest – at best – polling bounce from the GOP’s Tampa festivities last week spoke to the possibility that the electorate is now so thoroughly polarized that there’s nothing left for either party to gain from these quadrennial gatherings. It also fed talk that the conventions might be severely trimmed or otherwise overhauled starting in 2016.
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