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Is There a Need for Political Conventions?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The Republican Convention was last week. The Democrats rev theirs up this week. Television viewership of the Republican Convention was down, and I suspect we will see the same thing this week.

There were a couple of factors affecting the viewership of the Republican convention. First, the major networks didn’t push it. Only an hour each night. They didn’t advertise it and plug it. Second, the Republicans shortened their convention because of the hurricane.

But, does a well established political party even need a convention?

What Bill Clinton called, “the permanent campaign”, back in the early nineties is now indeed permanent. In the old days, a President would get elected and you would never see them or hear much after inauguration. Press conferences and speeches carried live on television was the way a President interacted with the populace.

Since Obama was elected, has there been a day where he didn’t make a speech on tv? He is over exposed. With social media and the internet, people are inundated with politics. They don’t need a convention to understand the talking points of each party.

In the old days, party bosses would get together and decide for everyone else what would happen and who would be where. At the Republican convention, there was outcry from some delegates when the establishment Republicans continued down that path. With the internet, we don’t need central planners to decide for us who should be put in what place.

The internet allows disparate delegates from far away places to interact and make each other more effective. Someone from California can talk to someone in Florida instantaneously. Collaboration is easy. Decision making is easier and faster.

Embraced correctly, the new forms of communication can act like a public marketplace that can broaden bases, and make parties stronger and more effective. Republicans for all their talk about embracing free markets and ending central planning forgot that at their convention. You can forgive Democrats, because they are all about deciding for you.

Republicans ought to genuflect to Hurricane Isaac. It proved you can do something in a shorter time frame. Conventions ought to be two day affairs.

Conventions in some form still are necessary though. First, it concentrates messaging. Bringing everyone together in a central place gets a lot of messaging on the same topics, punching through the rest of the noise in the world. Second, virtual connections are nice but they become very meaningful if you can at least know that person physically. By getting together once in awhile, those connections become more powerful because real relationships develop. There is still a lot of value in being physically present in the same room.

Conventions should bring a surprise that we don’t know about. Romney did one smart thing at the Republican convention. He brought out people that vouched for the personal side of him. That’s something that you don’t see every day when candidates campaign. The last night, there was a mystery speaker that turned out to be Clint Eastwood. It gives people a reason to be interested.

Political figures have become expert at targeting people for donations. When they call you or knock on your door, they know more about you via social media than you know about yourself. However, most politico types from both sides of the aisle don’t really know how to harness social media to broaden their base and be inclusive. They treat it like a megaphone rather than a listening/engagement/interacting device.

The party that figures that out first will win. Because once network effects take over, it becomes very hard to move people from one place to another.

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