(CN) — As an unusual convention season marked by social distancing and protests for equality comes to a close, political scientists reflect on how the parties adapted to the multiple crises.
“We are all learning what to expect from a Zoom convention,” political scientist Chris Cooper told Courthouse News at the starting line of this year’s Republican National Convention.
Cooper, the head of the Department of Political Science & Public Affairs at Western Carolina University in North Carolina, said Monday’s program gave him something like mental whiplash.
As the fiery and divisive speeches of stalwart Trump allies like Kimberly Guilfoyle clashed with clips like that of South Carolina’s U.S. Senator Tim Scott, who spoke with softer appeals to reason, swift contradictions in tone and message seemed to fight over airwaves.
Zooming out to look at the week as a whole, however, shows “moderate and extreme threads braided around each other,” Cooper said, noting that the two threads were most likely aimed toward two different audiences.
Monday night of the RNC, he said, has been described by some as “a night to court black voters.” To Cooper, portions of that night’s convention appeared to serve as an “olive branch,” but not one extended to black voters.
Rather, he said, moments of racial inclusion and toned-down speech during parts of the production appealed to “moderate white voters who may not be comfortable with Trump’s divisive rhetoric” or with racial ideas associated with the Republican Party.
In an interview, Steven Greene, a political science professor at NC State University, told Courthouse News a majority of the programming served to excite Trump’s base.
“That said, there has been some effort to strike a more welcoming tone from the likes of notably non-white speakers such as Nikki Haley and Tim Scott,” Greene said. “It's hard to imagine this would bring through all that much given the overall base-service of the convention, but there does appear to be some effort to expand the coalition or at least reach out to wavering Republican-friendly voters.”
According to a Pew Research poll from Aug. 13, 66% of Trump supporters say they support him “strongly,” while only 46% of Biden supporters say the same about the Democratic candidate.
In that poll, 23% of respondents who chose Trump said they support him “moderately” and another 11% said they “lean toward” Trump.
Cooper said the risk of these voters completely switching over to Biden at this point is low but the demographic is more likely to skip out on Election Day.
“The Trump vote is very deep, while the Biden vote is wide,” Cooper said, “The question is: ‘How deep does the support for Biden run?’”
At this point in the campaign cycle, there are far less swing voters than usual, which means viewers are more likely to be mobilized by the conventions than persuaded by them.
“The Republican base loves Trump and by giving the convention far more of the actual nominee than is typical, that is their effort to appeal to their base in a way Democrats cannot match,” Greene said.
When it comes to the spectacle, Greene said the RNC did not appear to attempt to outshine the Democrat’s earlier convention.
“It's almost like they've thrown in the towel on that score. Consider the extremely well-reviewed Democrats' roll call of states versus the pallid parade of speakers in front of a generic background for Republicans. Now, they've had their shiny moments, too, but, they largely all center almost entirely around President Trump,” he said.
Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, told Courthouse News he was interested to see how the two parties adapted their programming to the virtual format from the traditional arena-based rally.