The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions

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The Rockefeller Center is happy to bring you first-hand coverage from the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this year by Ester Cross '15. 


This will be my last blog post about the national conventions. I hope the personal insight I provided has been interesting and helpful in conceptualizing both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. I will use this last post to tell you about some of the important themes and events to result from the conventions and how I think they will impact our nation’s political system for years to come.

The Democratic and Republican National Conventions once served as a venue for selecting the party’s presidential candidate, setting party rules and determining the party platform for the next four years. Following the violent demonstrations in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention, the parties began to change the purpose of the national conventions from forums for contentious political discussion, debate and decision-making to staged public relations events. Today, the presidential nominee, party platform and rules are foregone conclusions during the three-day televised convention. Ironically, though the parties and candidates want to capture the spotlight during the convention, they hope to produce nothing newsworthy since what reporters and media outlets deem worthy of news constitutes an unexpected – and usually unwanted – event for party leaders and candidates. Try as they might to stage and control events during the conventions, however, news does occur and this year both conventions produced some interesting stories.

One of the interesting themes to emerge during the conventions is the reality of interparty divisions. The DNC showed significant divisiveness on the convention floor during the second day of the convention when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked delegates to issue their voice votes on two amendments to the party platform. The amendments were to add language recognizing the role of God in American history and to uphold America’s commitment to maintaining Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While these amendments were part of the 2008 Democratic Party Platform, they were removed from the 2012 platform until significant pressure reinstated the language. The voice vote was contentious with a large minority opposing adoption thereby forcing Mayor Villaraigosa to call the vote three times before adopting the amendments. This event represents division between the party’s establishment and new factions that want to move the party toward greater secularization and a two-state solution for Israel.

During the RNC, division was evidenced when the Ron Paul delegate minority staged a walk out to protest party leadership changing Paul delegates to Mitt Romney delegates for the state of Maine. Furthermore, the RNC faced interparty opposition from delegates objecting to rule changes that would potentially increase the power of party elites at the expense of the grassroots.

I was really interested to see similarities and differences between the RNC and DNC. Conventions seek to energize the party base and inspire grassroots organizers to impact their communities in shifting votes for the candidates. Both the RNC and DNC succeeded in exciting and inspiring their party base through key speeches, which laid out each party’s values, policy objectives and commitment to the American working and middle classes. Despite their concentration on garnering the youth vote, neither convention had strong representation of young delegates. Most delegates and alternates were older professionals or party elites who had a history of commitment to the party. Patricia Lee ’12, a field organizer with the Obama campaign in New Hampshire, was one of the few young delegates at the conventions.

Some differences between the conventions I identified were the differing messages emanating from Tampa and Charlotte. Speakers at the RNC praised the idea of the American Dream, criticized the current presidency for its attack on success and promised to turn around the economy for the benefit of all Americans to pursue their personal objectives. The DNC promised to improve the plight of the American working and middle classes and to continue establishing social supports if the American people give President Obama four more years to “finish the job he started.” The idea that this election will constitute one of the most important elections of my generation holds true in my mind after having experienced the conventions. Despite apparent similarities in both platforms about turning around the economy and reinstating American prosperity, each candidate will lead the nation in a starkly different direction.

A word about the role played by media, and especially new media, in covering the conventions and impacting American politics. New media first came to play a significant role during the 2008 conventions and had a strong presence at both conventions this year. Bloggers, internet news sources, podcasts and social media outlets were important sources of reporting and analysis. RNC and DNC convention leaders, having identified the growing impact of alternative news outlets, have adopted special credentialing options for members of new media. My experience at the conventions was heavily dependent on new media as I blogged, wrote for an Internet publication and participated in podcasts.

Finally, I believe the most important message emanating from the conventions is the great responsibility before the American people to select a president and a government that will represent their interests. Americans have two very different candidates and party platforms to choose between to improve the economy, increase prosperity and lead the world toward greater democracy. As both parties maintain, the future of the country will be decided in November by those who vote.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences