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The Myth of the Convention State Boost, Part II: The Republicans

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Republican presidential nominees have averaged a 1-point decline in convention host state's adjusted margin of victory (or loss) vis-à-vis the national vote compared to the previous election cycle since the first televised convention in 1940.

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With early predictions that the outcome of the 2012 presidential election will seemingly turn on a small handful of battleground states, each party is looking for an edge in states that have been narrowly-decided or flipped over the last few cycles.

In just over 14 months, a city in one of those states - Tampa, Florida - will host the Republican National Convention where scores of media outlets will descend for a week.

Each election cycle, speculation ensues as to whether a given party's presidential nominee will receive a boost in support from the convention-hosting state come Election Day.

The Republican Party is currently suffering through a four-cycle streak in which its presidential nominee has lost the state whose city hosted the party's national convention: California in 1996 (San Diego, by -12.9 points), Pennsylvania in 2000 (Philadelphia, -4.2 points), New York in 2004 (New York City; -18.3 points), and Minnesota in 2008 (St. Paul, -10.2 points).

That matches the longest GOP convention state drought, previously set during FDR's tenure in 1932 (Illinois), 1936 (Ohio), 1940 (Pennsylvania), and 1944 (Illinois).

Moreover, over the last 50+ years, there has been only one instance in which a GOP convention host state flipped from the Democrats four years prior to the Republicans: in 1968, when Richard Nixon won Florida.

Last December, Smart Politics published a report demonstrating a lack of correlation between an increase in support for Democratic presidential nominees and the state where the Democratic National Convention was held.

In fact, that study found the adjusted Democratic margin of victory (or loss) against the national vote for Democratic presidential nominees was actually lower in host states on average compared to that state's performance during the previous election cycle - seeing the percentage of their nominee's vote in host states drop an average of -1.8 points, their margin of victory in that state fall -2.8 points, and their adjusted margin of victory in the state against the nationwide vote slide -2.4 points from the previous cycle.

But what about the GOP?

Smart Politics first calculated the difference of the margin of victory or loss (MoV) for the Republican presidential nominee in the state of the host convention city against the national MoV for the candidate that election cycle.

For example, in 2000 George W. Bush lost the Republican convention state of Pennsylvania by 4.2 points to Al Gore, and lost the popular vote by 0.5 points, for a -3.7 point score.

This number was then compared to the difference between the MoV for that same state four years prior and that cycle's national MoV.

(Measuring the home state MoV against the nationwide MoV for each cycle helps to account for variations in the strength of presidential nominees from cycle to cycle).

In the Pennsylvania example, Bob Dole lost the Keystone State in 1996 by 9.2 points and the national vote by 8.5 points, for a -0.7 point differential.

The adjusted difference for Bush in Pennsylvania in 2000 (-3.7 points) was thus -3.0 points less than for Dole in 1996 (-0.7 points).

Looking more broadly, Smart Politics examined the adjusted cycle-to-cycle data since the first televised GOP convention in 1940 and found that Republicans fared scarcely better than the Democrats in securing an Election Day bounce in the convention state:

· Across the 18 election cycles since 1940, Republican presidential nominees have averaged 49.1 percent of the vote in states hosting the convention, compared to 49.0 percent in those states four years prior.

· The average GOP nominee margin of victory in convention states across these 18 cycles was +2.7 points, compared to a virtually identical +2.6 points in those states four years prior.

· Since 1940, the Republican nominee scored a +1.6 point larger average margin of victory in the convention state vis-à-vis the national MoV. However, their nominee had a +2.5 point larger average MoV in that same state four years prior relative to that cycle's national MoV.

In short, over the last 70+ years, the Republican presidential nominee's performance in the convention state is correlated to a -0.9-point decline in competitiveness when compared to four years prior adjusted to the national MoV.

During this 18-cycle span, the GOP has also yielded as many pick-ups to the Democrats in their convention host states as they have picked up themselves.

The Republican Party was able to flip convention states in 1948 (Pennsylvania), 1952 (Illinois), and 1968 (Florida).

However, the GOP lost convention states they had won during the previous cycle in 1960 (Illinois), 1964 (California), and 1976 (Missouri).

Overall, the Republican convention state has flipped 11 times dating back to 1860 when the party held its second convention: six times in favor of the GOP and five times against it.

The convention state remained in the 'win' column for another 19 cycles and in the 'loss' column for eight others.

Taken as a whole, there is no compelling evidence to suggest either party scores consistent gains in the convention host state when adjusted for the vote that candidate receives nationwide.

(Note: when taking the long view dating back to the formation of the Republican Party in 1856, there has been an average +1.9-point adjusted boost in the convention state from four years prior. However, three quarters of that advantage is due to the election of 1864, when the Party held their convention in Baltimore, Maryland. Four year prior, in 1860, nominee Abraham Lincoln did not contest the Old Line State and only won 2.6 percent of the vote there. As a result, the 55.1 percent won by Lincoln in 1864 had a large effect on shaping this perceived slight overall advantage over the last 150+ years).

Adjusted Margin of Victory (or Loss) in Republican National Convention's Host State Vis-à-Vis the National Vote, 1940-2008

Year
State
City
Adjusted MoV
Previous Cycle
Net Change
2008
MN
St. Paul
-2.9
-6.0
3.1
2004
NY
New York
-20.8
-24.5
3.7
2000
PA
Philadelphia
-3.7
-0.7
-3.0
1996
CA
San Diego
-4.4
-7.8
3.4
1992
TX
Houston
9.1
4.9
4.2
1988
LA
New Orleans
2.5
4.4
-1.9
1984
TX
Dallas
9.3
4.2
5.1
1980
MI
Detroit
-3.2
7.5
-10.7
1976
MO
Kansas City
-1.5
1.4
-2.9
1972
FL
Miami Beach
20.9
8.9
12.0
1968
FL
Miami Beach
8.9
20.3
-11.4
1964
CA
San Francisco
4.3
0.8
3.5
1960
IL
Chicago
0.0
3.8
-3.8
1956
CA
San Francisco
-4.3
3.7
-8.0
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
PA
Philadelphia
3.1
8.3
-5.2
 
 
Average
1.6
2.5
-0.9

The fourth column denotes the difference between the Republican 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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