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Location of Democratic National Convention Unlikely to Boost 2012 Vote in Host State

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Since 1832, Democratic presidential nominees have suffered a 2.4-point average decline in host state's adjusted margin of victory (or loss) vis-à-vis the national vote compared to the previous election cycle

In a letter submitted last week to the Democratc National Convention Committee, Minnesota DFL Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and likely governor-elect Mark Dayton made an appeal that Minneapolis should be chosen for the convention's host city for several "political" reasons.

While acknowledging in one paragraph that "history shows the national political convention site doesn't necessarily influence the outcome of the election," the state's top Democratic leaders then proceeded to make several arguments as to why hosting the convention in Minneapolis would help Barack Obama and Democrats in 2012:

"Minnesota is often on the list of swing states and winning the heartland has proven to be a key region in many presidential elections."

"Our state is in play and has political importance. It's time again for Democrats to lay claim to Minnesota and help regain control in 2012."

Minneapolis, along with Charlotte, Cleveland, and St. Louis, is one of four cities chosen earlier this year by the DNC as finalists for the national convention - each strategically located in key battleground states. (Obama carried Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio, and lost Missouri by less than 4,000 votes).

But while it is true that Democrats will likely lose the White House if Obama does not carry Minnesota in 2012 (a state that has voted Democratic in nine consecutive presidential elections), the implication by Klobuchar, Franken, and Dayton that holding the convention in Minneapolis will assist the President in winning the Gopher State is unfounded.

A Smart Politics study of states hosting the DNC for the last 176 years finds that the percentage of Democratic vote, the margin of Democratic victory (or loss), and the adjusted Democratic margin of victory (or loss) against the national vote for Democratic presidential nominees is actually worse in host states on average compared to that state's performance in the previous election cycle.

Overall, Democrats have seen the percentage of their nominee's vote in host states drop an average of 1.8 points, see their margin of victory in that state drop 2.8 points, and find their adjusted margin of victory in the state against the nationwide vote fall 2.4 points from the previous cycle.

As the Minnesota Senators and Dayton acknowledge in their letter to the DNCC, "Only half the time has the state in which the DNC was hosted went for the Democratic Party in the general election."

And that's correct. Since the first Democratic convention in Baltimore in 1832, the Democratic presidential nominee has lost 23 states that hosted the convention while winning 22 (although each of the last five).

Moreover, an equal number of host states have flipped from the Democratic Party to the GOP from the previous election cycle as have been gained by Democrats, with only two flips in the Democrat's favor since FDR.

Host states moving to the Democratic column in the year of the convention are New York (1868, 1976), Illinois (1892, 1932), Colorado (1908, 2008), Maryland (1912), and Pennsylvania (1936).

Host states that saw Democratic presidential nominees move from the 'win' to the 'loss' column during the convention hosting year are Illinois (1896, 1952, 1968), Missouri (1904), California (1920), Texas (1928), Pennsylvania (1948), and New York (1980).

In another 14 cycles host states stayed in the winning column from the previous cycle and in 15 cycles host states remained in the losing column.

Of course, the calculus in deciding what city (and state) hosts a political party's national convention - and the amount and type of media attention it receives - has changed over the generations.

Overall, Chicago has hosted the most conventions (11) followed by Baltimore (eight, including the first five), New York (5), and St. Louis (4).

But there is further evidence casting doubt on the existence of any electoral boost a Democratic presidential nominee receives in the convention city's host state.

If anything, there is correlative evidence of a negative impact.

Democratic nominees have averaged 46.8 percent of the presidential vote in states hosting their conventions that election cycle - a drop of 1.8 points from the 48.6 percent of the vote nominees averaged in these host states four years prior.

Democratic candidates have notched double-digit gains in states hosting the DNC on 10 occasions - including in Colorado (+13.7 points) when Denver hosted the convention in 2008.

But such candidates have also lost ground in host states by double-digit margins during 10 other cycles.

When looking at the Democratic presidential margin of victory (or loss) in the host state, the numbers also provide little evidence for a convention state 'boost.'

Democrats have averaged a 1.7-point loss across the 45 election cycles in those states hosting the convention - or 2.8 points less than the +1.1-point average margin of victory nominees scored across those host states just four years prior.

For example, in 2004 Boston hosted the DNC. John Kerry carried (his home state of) Massachusetts by 25.2 points in 2004, which was 2.1 points less than Al Gore's margin of victory in the Bay State in 2000.

In 2000, when the DNC was held in Los Angeles, Al Gore carried California by 11.8 points, dropping 1.1 points from Bill Clinton's 12.9-point victory in 1996.

Of course, sometimes the presence or absence of a host state bounce often has less to do with the host state itself and more to do with the relative strength of the Democratic nominee's campaign as well as the extent of a Democratic or Republican wave during a given election cycle.

To account for these variables, Smart Politics calculated each DNC's host state adjusted margin of victory - comparing the difference between the Democratic margin of victory or loss in the host state and the national margin of victory or loss against the previous election cycle for that state.

For example, in 2008 Barack Obama carried Colorado by 1.7 more points (9.0) than he won the country overall (7.3). In 2004, Kerry lost Colorado by 2.2 more points (-4.7) than he lost the national vote overall (-2.5).

That gave Colorado a +3.9-point adjusted net bounce for the Democrats in 2008.

However, there is no historical evidence of a boost when looking at the performance of Democratic nominees in host states over the years.

In fact, Democratic presidential nominees have averaged a -2.4 point adjusted net decline in victory margin in host states from the previous cycle.

In other words, nominees have performed 2.4 points worse on average in the convention city's host state vis-à-vis the national vote as compared to the Democratic nominees performance in that state four years prior.

Democratic nominees have seen their adjusted MoV decline in host states in 24 election cycles, compared to 20 cycles in which it increased.

(Data was only available for 44 of the 45 cycles with Democratic conventions. There was no comparable data for the 1856 Election, when the DNC was held in Charleston, South Carolina. The Palmetto State still cast their Electors by the state legislature instead of popular vote).

Democratic nominees saw their adjusted margin of victory in the host state drop by more than 10 points against the previous election cycle seven times: in Ohio (Cincinnati, 1852, -12.1 points), Maryland (Baltimore, 1872, -27.2 points), Missouri (St. Louis, 1876, -10.3 points), California (San Francisco, 1920, -13.0 points), Texas (Houston, 1928, -65.4 points), Florida (Miami Beach, 1972, -12.0 points), and Georgia (Atlanta, 1988, -10.4 points).

In only three cycles did the adjusted victory margin increase by double digits: in Maryland (Baltimore, 1840, +20.1 points), New York (NYC, 1920, +10.0 points), and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1936, +15.3 points).

Even when looking at the impact of the location of the Democratic National Convention only during the age of television, there has been virtually no political boost for Democratic presidential nominees in the host state.

Since 1960, Democrats have experienced only a 0.26-point increase in the convention's host state against the national average compared to the previous election cycle.

Of course, all this does not mean it is foolhardy for Klobuchar, Franken, and Dayton to lobby for the convention taking place in Minneapolis.

While there may be little political benefit to Obama and the Democrats for this move, there are undoubtedly financial benefits for the Gopher State in hosting the DNC in Minneapolis, with a week of free advertising for the city and state as thousands of media and conventioneers descend upon Minnesota's largest city.

Unfortunately for Minnesota's political leaders, there is no added political value the state can pitch to the convention committee as to why the DNC should take place in their (battleground) state.

Adjusted Margin of Victory (or Loss) in DNC City's Host State Vis-à-Vis the National Vote, 1832-2008

Year
State
City
Adjusted MoV
Previous Cycle
Net MoV
2008
CO
Denver
1.7
-2.2
3.9
2004
MA
Boston
27.7
26.8
0.9
2000
CA
Los Angeles
11.3
4.4
6.9
1996
IL
Chicago
9.0
8.6
0.4
1992
NY
New York
10.3
11.8
-1.5
1988
GA
Atlanta
-12.6
-2.2
-10.4
1984
CA
San Francisco
2.0
-7.1
9.1
1980
NY
New York
7.0
2.3
4.7
1976
NY
New York
2.3
5.9
-3.6
1972
FL
Miami Beach
-20.9
-8.9
-12.0
1968
IL
Chicago
-2.2
-3.7
1.5
1964
NJ
Atlantic City
9.2
0.6
8.6
1960
CA
Los Angeles
-0.8
4.3
-5.1
1956
IL
Chicago
-3.8
1.0
-4.8
1952
IL
Chicago
1.0
-3.6
4.6
1948
PA
Philadelphia
-8.5
-4.7
-3.8
1944
IL
Chicago
-4.0
-7.6
3.6
1940
IL
Chicago
-7.6
-6.3
-1.3
1936
PA
Philadelphia
-8.3
-23.6
15.3
1932
IL
Chicago
-4.9
2.7
-7.6
1928
TX
Houston
13.7
79.1
-65.4
1924
NY
New York
-1.4
-11.4
10.0
1920
CA
San Francisco
-15.7
-2.7
-13.0
1916
MO
St. Louis
0.6
3.2
-2.6
1912
MD
Baltimore
9.3
8.2
1.1
1908
CO
Denver
9.6
4.6
5.0
1904
MO
St. Louis
14.9
11.6
3.3
1900
MO
Kansas City
11.6
13.0
-1.4
1896
IL
Chicago
-8.7
0.1
-8.8
1892
IL
Chicago
0.1
-3.8
3.9
1888
MO
St. Louis
4.1
6.9
-2.8
1884
IL
Chicago
-4.3
-6.5
2.2
1880
OH
Cincinnati
-4.6
-4.1
-0.5
1876
MO
St. Louis
13.3
23.6
-10.3
1872
MD
Baltimore
12.5
39.7
-27.2
1868
NY
New York
6.5
9.2
-2.7
1864
IL
Chicago
1.3
6.6
-5.3
1860
MD
Baltimore
-29.4
-29.9
0.5
1856
SC
Charleston
---
---
---
1852
OH
Cincinnati
-2.3
9.8
-12.1
1848
MD
Baltimore
0.4
-6.3
6.7
1844
MD
Baltimore
-6.3
-1.6
-4.7
1840
MD
Baltimore
-1.6
-21.7
20.1
1836
MD
Baltimore
-21.7
-17.8
-3.9
1832
MD
Baltimore
-17.8
-12.8
-5.0
 
 
Average
-0.2
+2.2
-2.4
The fourth column denotes the difference between the Democratic nominee's margin of victory in the convention city's host state and the percentage of the vote received nationwide. The fifth column denotes the same differential for first column's host state in the previous election cycle. The sixth column calculates the difference between the first and second columns. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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