The amount of media coverage dedicated to both the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions dominated most news websites. At first glance, the constant flow of red and blue infographics with statistics and speech content analysis may seem like overkill. The relentless nature of the coverage begs the question, why are national conventions so important? Do we really need all of this hysterical coverage that seems to frame the nomination process with story lines more likely featured for reality television coverage?
A journalist at The Atlantic asks the same question. In particular, the journalist, Peter Osnos, highlights the abundance of television networks, roughly thirteen, that chose to broadcast parts or all of the conventions, as well as the live streaming that was widely available on the internet. Given that national nominating conventions originated as a means for political parties to articulate the policies in their party platforms, and to nominate their Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, I would argue that they remain a relevant part of the presidential campaign. While some argue that the scripted nature and carefully constructed veneer of the conventions prevents them from displaying authentic party positions legislature, they nonetheless provide the American public with information about the candidates running for President. Yes the speeches are written and poll-tested beforehand, but even with that, at least people can learn about the candidate just by examining what issues they choose to address or not address, in their speech.
In a rather telling example of this phenomenon, a chart of the topic breakdown for the policy portion of Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech includes only two sub-categories: The Economy and Healthcare. Education and the environment are not even listed.
By contrast, a chart of the policy portion of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech includes five topics: The Economy, Foreign Policy, Energy, Education and Health Care.
Even with this relatively simple comparison, Americans can use this information as a way to evaluate the two candidates. (I find it fascinating that there was no chart on the content breakdown of Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech, although that is more a function of the source, C-Span, than it is a value statement about Romney).
The content of the speeches is pre-planned yes, that is not a secret, but to write the entire convention process off seems unfair. After all, they are funded in part by the taxpayer check-off system, so the American people deserve to see what the two conventions have to offer. With all of the media coverage available—roughly “2.5 media members per every potential delegate” at the Democratic National Convention—people have the freedom to develop their own opinions about the candidates and their parties. The abundance of information available allows them to inform themselves and if they so choose, they can also determine which websites and sources tend to lean left or right. With this ability, they can actively determine whether or not they are viewing biased coverage.
The conventions draw the public eye towards at least some of the policy issues at stake in the election. This attention, whether through television or Twitter, serves as an opportunity for citizens to inform themselves about the presidential election. They may not do this, but at least for a couple weeks in the news cycle, the focus on the presidential candidates can remind them that as citizens with the right to vote, they play a vital role in the Presidential election. The canned nature of the conventions may disgust many citizens, but this disgust might also spur just a few to attempt to change the very nature of conventions. Who knows? But if conventions were eliminated, the opportunity to facilitate this inspiration or disgust-fueled drive would disappear as well, and that would be a true democratic tragedy.