Posted August 15, 2012

Political experts say conventions are key in race for the White House

With the 2012 presidential election now just months away, the nation's attention has turned to the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions. Temple University political experts Christopher Wlezien, Robin Kolodny and Kevin Arceneaux offer their insights on the campaigns and what to expect from the conventions this year.

  • Chris Wlezien
  • Kevin Arceneaux
  • Robin Kolodny

Professor of political science

Christopher Wlezien’s current research addresses the evolution of voter preferences over the course of the election cycle. It has been the subject of numerous articles as well as a newly published book, co-authored by Wlezien, titled The Timeline of Presidential Elections (2012).

“The nominating conventions are the most consequential events of the campaign. They focus voters’ attention on the election and often substantially rearrange their preferences. Most importantly, unlike other campaign events, the effects of conventions can last to impact the Election Day outcome.

“Conventions really are collections of many events, the most important features of which are the presidential candidates’ speeches. These allow the contenders to present themselves and define their positions, and they attract the greatest media attention and have the biggest impact on voters. The vice presidential candidates also may receive a good amount of attention but matter to a much lesser extent.

“After the conventions, voters’ intentions change only gradually, with particular events – including presidential debates – rarely resulting in dramatic change.  During this period, electoral preferences harden. History shows that the leader in the polls at the onset of the fall campaign almost certainly will be the victor."

Associate professor of political science

Robin Kolodny specializes in political party foundations. She is the author of Pursuing Majorities: Congressional Campaign Committees in American Politics (1998) as well as numerous articles on political parties in Congress, in elections and in comparative perspective. She also writes extensively on political consultants and campaign finance in the US.

“The most critical moment for the national party conventions will be the introduction of U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

“Beyond that, party activists who are the delegates to these nominating conventions will be looking for important signals of unity and energy among their ranks. For the Republicans, this means looking to their right for a sincere dedication to the Romney ticket. For the Democrats, this means finding ways to energize important parts of their base, particularly youth, African-Americans, and Latinos, a move they have already signaled in selecting Julian Castro, the 37 year old mayor of San Antonio, Texas."

Associate professor of political science

Kevin Arceneaux’s research examines the extent to which citizens influence political outcomes.  His current projects use experimental methods to study how political rhetoric and mass communication influence political attitudes and behavior. In August 2012, he received the Emerging Scholar Award from the American Political Science Association.  

“There is usually a 'bounce' in support for the candidate after his, (and hopefully some day 'her', party's convention, but it doesn't last long.  Part of the reason for this bounce is that voters are getting a relatively one-sided stream of media about the campaign. But after the conventions are over, the mainstream news media goes back to reporting both sides of the campaign and television ads start in earnest -- though they have started earlier than usual this year.

“I would expect a surge in support for Romney in early September, but for it to be erased as the Democratic Convention begins. Because the GOP and Democratic Conventions are so close this year, Romney’s bounce may be more short-lived than usual. After the 6th, we should see a little bounce in support for Obama, but if past is prologue, it will only last a week -- if that."