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Will 2016 GOP Convention Boost Nominee in Host City's State?

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Republican presidential nominees have averaged a 1-point decline in the 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

rnclogo10.jpgLate last week the Republican National Committee announced eight finalists for the party's 2016 national convention: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Dallas.

Las Vegas is unofficially considered to have the inside track as the field of cities winnows to the eventual host of the June or July 2016 convention.

At first glance, it should be evident that the majority of the cities mentioned above are located in battleground states (three in Ohio plus one each in Colorado, Nevada, and Missouri).

The RNC does not officially stress battleground state status for its national convention criteria and, to be sure, logistical considerations for a potential host city are of paramount importance (e.g. raising a lot of money and providing suitable, plentiful, and conveniently located facilities).

That said, the purported political benefits of a city holding the RNC in 2016 - that is to say the competitiveness of the state in which it is located - has nonetheless been front and center as locales lobby for the bid and in the media's coverage of the story.

"The road to the White House runs through Ohio. It is the ultimate battleground state. Not only does Ohio have three world-class cities capable of hosting a national convention, but bringing one here would put our candidate and Party's message directly in front of voters." - Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges (February 27, 2014)

"Las Vegas also has the allure of being in Nevada, a state that is an electoral battleground and one that Republicans would like to reclaim after losing the last two presidential elections." - New York Times (January 23, 2014)

"Colorado has been a classic battleground state in national politics for some years now, so it comes as no surprise that Denver would be among the eight cities named as finalists to hold the 2016 Republican National Convention. From a strategic standpoint, Denver would be a smart choice for the coronation of the GOP presidential nominee." - Denver Post Editorial Board (February 27, 2014)

"Nevada also is a battleground state and having a GOP convention here could ignite more Republican enthusiasm, giving the GOP presidential nominee an edge at the ballot box." - Las Vegas Review Journal (February 27, 2014)

"Las Vegas, Denver and Phoenix appeal to RNC members because the cities are at the epicenter of demographic change that contributed to Republican losses in 2012. For the party to be competitive in 2016, many have acknowledged, it needs to do a better job speaking to booming minority populations." - POLITICO (January 25, 2014)

So, if, say, Las Vegas, Denver, or Cleveland wins the RNC bid, does that mean the GOP 2016 presidential nominee will, if not win the state outright, at the very least perform stronger in the host city's state than they would have otherwise?

The evidence suggests this is not the case.

First, some background.

The Republican Party is currently suffering through a five-cycle streak in which its presidential nominee has lost the state where the city hosting the party's national convention was located: 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), Minnesota in 2008 (St. Paul, -10.2 points), and Florida in 2012 (Tampa, -0.9 points).

That is the longest GOP 'convention state' drought in the party's history - besting the previous high water mark of four in a row set during FDR's tenure in 1932 (Illinois), 1936 (Ohio), 1940 (Pennsylvania), and 1944 (Illinois).

Over the last 58 years, there has been only one instance in which a Republican convention state actually flipped from voting for the Democratic presidential nominee four years prior to the Republican nominee that cycle - in 1968, when Richard Nixon carried Florida.

During this span, the GOP has actually lost three convention states where the party was victorious in the previous cycle: Illinois in 1960 (Chicago), California in 1964 (San Francisco), and Missouri in 1976 (Kansas City).

But it's more than outright wins and losses.

In fact, over the last 70+ years, there has been no correlation between an increase in support for Republican presidential nominees and the state where the Republican National Convention was held.

Smart Politics first calculated the difference in 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 since the first televised GOP convention in 1940.

For example, in 2012 Mitt Romney lost the Republican convention state of Florida by 0.9 points to Barack Obama, and lost the popular vote by 3.9 points, for a +3.0-point adjusted score. In other words, Romney performed three points better in Florida against Obama than he did nationwide.

This score was then compared to the difference between the party's MoV for that same state and nationwide four years prior.

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 Florida example, John McCain lost the Sunshine State in 2008 by 2.8 points and the national vote by 7.3 points, for a +4.5-point differential.

As such, the adjusted difference for Romney in Florida in 2012 (3.0 points) was thus 1.5 points less than for McCain in 2008 (4.5 points) - despite the GOP holding its convention in Tampa in 2012.

Looking more broadly, Smart Politics examined this adjusted cycle-to-cycle data since the first televised GOP convention in 1940 and found that Republicans more often than not saw a relative drop in support in the convention city's home state vis-à-vis the national vote compared to the previous cycle, doing so in 11 of 19 cycles: 1940, 1944, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 2000, and 2012.

· Since 1940, the Republican nominee scored a +1.7 point larger average margin of victory in the convention state vis-à-vis the national MoV. However, their nominee had a +2.6 point larger average MoV in that same state four years prior relative to that cycle's national MoV.

· Across the 19 election cycles since 1940, Republican presidential nominees have averaged 49.0 percent of the vote in states hosting the convention, compared to 49.1 percent in those states four years prior.

· The average GOP nominee margin of victory (or loss) in convention states across these 19 cycles was +2.5 points, compared to +2.6 points in those states four years prior.

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 candidate's performance nationwide.

And so, while all the talk of battlegrounds may sound good on paper, there is little compelling evidence to suggest the Republican Party would be more shrewd to hold its convention in Denver than Dallas or in Las Vegas than Phoenix.

All this isn't to say that the convention-friendly city of Las Vegas does not hold an advantage when it comes to 2016 - simply that it is not due to Nevada's purple state status.

Adjusted Margin of Victory (or Loss) in Republican National Convention's Host State Vis-à-Vis the National Vote, 1940-2012

Year
State
City
Adjusted MoV
Previous Cycle
Net Change
2012
FL
Tampa
+3.0
+4.5
-1.5
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
1.7
2.6
-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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