Commission Calls for Change in National Political Conventions

Article excerpt

NATIONAL political conventions - filled with speeches, music, balloons, and ballyhoo - are losing their appeal to American voters. Now a group of political experts is calling for change.

A new study by the Commission on National Political Conventions recommends compressing these quadrennial events to accommodate the needs of television, and possibly boost audiences.

The national conventions get huge media coverage from CBS, ABC, NBC, C-SPAN, CNN, and other outlets. In 1988, some 3,800 reporters and other media representatives covered the two major party gatherings in Atlanta and New Orleans.

Even so, public interest waned. "(The) Republican convention week was the lowest ratings week in network history," says George Watson, Washington bureau chief for ABC News.

The reason is obvious. Conventions no longer are the battlegrounds where the parties pick their nominees, as they were before 1972.

The struggle for the presidential nomination is waged in the primaries and caucuses that begin months earlier in Iowa and New Hampshire. By the time the candidates reach the national conventions, the fight is over - and the public knows the outcome.

In 1988, George Bush tried to sustain public interest in the convention by withholding his choice of Dan Quayle for vice president until convention week.

The 32-member commission on conventions confronts the problem of declining audiences head-on. The commission, organized by the Center for Democracy, was co-chaired by former Republican chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. and former Democratic chairman Charles Manatt.

Mr. Fahrenkopf and Mr. Manatt would trim the conventions from four nights to three. In exchange, the commission recommends that the major networks grant three hours of prime time to the parties in September and October to present their programs to the American people. …