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Government and Politics

Political conventions bring a city lots of attention, not so much money
Mega-events economist says others stay away when conventioneers come to town

Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
Political conventions bring attention to host cities and to emerging politicians. But when it comes to money, economist Victor Matheson says they're a wash.
Courtesy of M.L. SCHULTZE
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In The Region:

Cleveland officials started their week in Washington, pitching the city as the host for the 2016 Republican National Convention. Backers say the convention could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the region – beyond the prestige of hosting a big political shindig.  But WKSU' M.L. Schultze spoke with an economist who specializes in mega-events, and says this one has likely been overpromised:

LISTEN: Matheson challenges conventional wisdom on political conventions

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Victor Matheson of Holy Cross College and two other economists have studied the economic impact of political conventions since 1972. They’ve matched the economies of host cities against similar cities. And overall: it’s a wash. 

“These national conventions are highly disruptive. So while it is absolutely true that the streets of the host city are going to be filled with conventioneers, filled with media, filled with politicians, as well as security, …  all of the crowds and congestion and especially the security tends to crowd out any other sort of other economic activity that might occur at the same time.” 

Matheson held up one example – the 20 percent drop of the sale of Broadway show tickets when New York City hosted the Republican presidential convention in 2004.

Not every city is crowded in the first place
He acknowledged, however, that not all cities are created equal.

“It’s certainly going to change from city to city. A place that’s going to be typically empty during the time frame that the convention would be going on might have significantly more economic impact than other places. So if August is not prime tourism time in Cleveland, then you might see a bigger bump.” 

But Matheson says political conventions don’t spend publicly the way other conventions do because so many events are hosted by lobbyists and are private.

Not like any other
“The typical sort of conventioneer is significantly different than a political conventioneer. So while local restaurants are actually fairly happy with a typical convention, that same sort of restaurant business does not seem to be drummed up by politicians in quite the same way  -- because of this large number of very specific closed events.

“A bunch of auto dealers and a bunch of economists come to town, you might expect your restaurants and bars to be quite full. … In fact, at a political convention, those delegates are often very specifically in private functions that don’t tend to then go out into the regular economy in quite the same way.” 

Still, he acknowledges, there is the national attention.

“It  does focus all the national attention on Cleveland for 3-4 days, and of course if you’re a politician, you love attention.” 

And he says political conventions often do no demand the same amount of local subsidies of other events because the federal government and political parties chip in in a big way for security.



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