(Foto: Edmund D. Fountain/The Tampa Bay Times/AP)
The importance of the conventions is clear from research conducted over the last six decades by the American National Election Studies, a collaboration of the University of Michigan and Stanford University. After every election since 1948, ANES has asked voters when they made their choice. Most voters either “knew all along” or settled on their candidate the day he announced. But for millions of voters, the decision is made during the conventions. In recent elections, the number hit a high at the 29 percent who decided during the conventions in 1988. That year, 51 percent decided during the convention or right afterward. ANES has not yet released its numbers for 2008, but in 2004, 14 percent of the electorate made up their mind at the conventions.
That means that 18.1 million voters decided their votes at the time of the 2004 conventions and 26.3 million decided then in 1988.
This is no surprise to veteran campaign strategists, and it is why they work so hard to try to script and control every minute of the convention. Tad Devine is a veteran of six Democratic conventions, working for five candidates, as a delegate tracker for Jimmy Carter in 1980, a deputy delegate director for Walter Mondale in 1984, a floor manager for Michael Dukakis in 1988, as well as playing key roles for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry sen. John Kerry Democrat Massachusetts Sign up or log in to read the full profile in 2004. “I’ve seen it,” Devine told National Journal. “I know it is a hugely important moment in the campaign, just as important as one of the debates. I saw that with Gore in 2000. We went into the convention trailing by 17 points. And by the time we left Los Angeles, Gore was 5 points ahead.... So 22 million people changed their mind in a week.”
(...) This is possible because millions of Americans who have shunned the campaign the whole year tune in for the key moments of the conventions. “That’s what makes the convention critically important,” said Cal Jillson, a political-science professor at Southern Methodist University who has studied conventions. “So many Americans are not yet watching. Even though we junkies have been riveted for a year and think that we have as much information as we can stand about these guys, a good half of the public is just about to start paying attention. They don’t yet have a clear idea, particularly of Romney and [Paul] Ryan.” Additionally, he told NJ, “independents want to hear Obama make his case again.”