The Corner

Debating Political Conventions

The national party conventions, having long ago lost their significance in selecting nominees for president, are still actively courted on the promise that thousands of delegates and scores of media crews will boost a city’s economy and profile. But it turns out that because of the cost of security, traffic disruption, and the subsidies the parties typically demand, most conventions confer few if any such benefits, as Denver’s Channel 7 reports:

“If a city does in fact do well with a political convention, it’s just dumb luck,” said University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson, who studies large-scale events. “They rolled the dice. It wasn’t careful planning.”

Local economic development officials envision hotels and restaurants packed with thousands of delegates, plus more tourists and subsequent business gatherings that they say the exposure of a national political convention will draw long after the delegates go home.

While a convention can raise a host city’s profile and benefit some individuals and businesses, “for the community overall, it’s stressful,” said Robert Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest College in Chicago who researches the impact of large-scale events. “When you account for the costs as well as the benefits, I think it’s probably an economic wash.”

Backers of the successful bids for the 2008 Republican convention in the Twin Cities and the Democratic one in Denver clearly hope things will be different. It appears that the 2004 conventions in Boston and New York City were, indeed, business disappointments, though obviously Bostonians can decide whether the entertainment value of watching in person John Kerry’s flotilla steam triumphantly across the bay was still worth it.


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