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Republican National Convention: GOP and Democrats Fail to Capture Voters Like They Used To

Aired July 28, 2000 - 2:32 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, political conventions have changed through the years. So have the parties themselves.

Of course, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider takes a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): In the 19th century, the parties were like armies. They had loyal troops, headquarters, torchlight parades, war chests and spoils. Politics was us against them.

But in the 20th century, as voters became better educated and more skeptical, parties were forced to turn to marketing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The man from Abilene, out of the heartland of America, out of this small-frame house in Abilene, Kansas, came a man, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: They used new tools of persuasion, advertising, polls, focus groups to woo voters. And now infomercials, which is what political conventions have become.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH DOLE: But tonight I would like to break with tradition, for two reasons; one, I'm going to be speaking to friends; and secondly, I'm going to be speaking about the man I love. And it's just a lot more comfortable for me to do that down here with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: As marketing took over, the ranks of loyal partisans began to diminish, particularly as television came to dominate politics in the 1960s. In 1960, both Democrats and Republicans outnumbered independents.

By 1980, the ranks of both Democrats and Republicans had shrunk, while independents grew to one-third of the electorate.

By 1998, independents were nearly the largest party. Partisans are fans. If a team is losing fans, fewer and fewer people will show up at the games. If the parties are losing fans, fewer and fewer people will show up at the polls.

Look what's happened voter turnout: In the 1960s, over 60 percent of the voting age population showed up to vote in presidential elections. In the 1970s and '80s, turnout dropped to just over 50 percent, even though it was becoming easier to register and vote. In 1996, a majority of Americans didn't even bother to vote.

Analysts say, the brand-names Democrat and Republican are out of date.

KEVIN PHILLIPS, POLITICAL ANALYST: Basically what they represent is Washington and big money, with regional flavorings.

SCHNEIDER: Parties have been displaced by personalities, heroic personalities, off-beat personalities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSS PEROT (REF), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now you got to stop letting these people tell you who to vote for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Colorful personalities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSE VENTURA (REF), GOVERNOR-ELECT, MINNESOTA: The experts were wrong when they said I couldn't win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: And personalities whose appeal crosses party lines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I welcome Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, vegetarians, I welcome all to our banner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The question is: how much longer can the parties freeze these guys out?

(on camera): American politics is now a two-way dialogue. Candidates talk directly to the voters through television, the voters talk back through polls, and increasingly, the Internet. Nothing much left for parties to do except raise and spend soft money.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Philadelphia. (END VIDEOTAPE)

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