Conventions: bad for journos, good for voters
Every four years, the two presidential candidates do battle in a series of high-stakes televised events that could shape the outcome of the campaign. They also take part in some highly scripted programming where little real news is made and few viewers’ minds are changed.
Voters who take the word of elite political journalists would be forgiven for thinking that the first events are the presidential debates and the second are the party conventions, but as the political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien show, the truth is actually the opposite (see also James Stimson’s Tides of Consent, which reaches a similar conclusion). Party conventions help to remind partisans who have strayed from their core views what they really believe and also influence independents who don’t have strong links to either party, creating bounces in the polls that frequently persist through the end of the campaign. By contrast, the well-practiced exchanges that dominate presidential debates rarely provide the game-changing moments that the media loves to pretend are commonplace. Indeed, the debates occur too late to have much effect in all but the closest races.