It’s long been tradition that the two major political parties alternate the orders of their conventions, with the Democrats going first every eight years and the Republicans going first for the presidential elections in between.
This year, the Democrats will look to make the most of that positioning.
“As a general principal, going second is in your advantage and the reason is you get to rebut and retort everything your opponents say,” Engel says. “If we look back in recent conventions, particularly 1988, 1996 and 2008, each time the party that went first got a big bump in the polls, but then the party that went second cut into the lead and one of the reasons is obvious: When people hear a convincing case, they’re convinced, and when you hear one side of the argument without interruption, it’s very convincing.”
Engel admits, however, that the “without interruption” bit might become a relic of a bygone age this year.
“In previous years, parties were remarkably respectful of whoever goes first, the other party goes quiet, and whoever goes second, the first party goes quiet, and I don’t anticipate that in the least this summer,” Engel says. “I anticipate Donald Trump will be live-tweeting during the Democratic affair. The difference is now candidates can use social media to reach voters instantly without journalists between them. Before, the reason for a convention was all the cameras in the world faced you at once. Now, you don’t need the cameras. Now you can tweet.”
Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History. He can discuss:
- comparisons to past presidential races
- foreign policy
- presidential rhetoric