In what ways did the conventions have an impact on the electorate if at all?
Most contemporary conventions for the two mainstream parties of the United States have turned into demonstrations of unity amidst much fanfare. Rare was the occasion when party division was displayed either openly, or as in the Democratic Convention in 2016, by the barely disguised disdain Bernie Sanders had for the nominee, Hillary Clinton. That division arguably cost the Party the elections, as some Sanders supporters voted for Trump or just did not bother to go to the polls. This year, as part of the unusual circumstances due to the pandemic, the conventions were held virtually. The candidate of a seemingly united Democratic Party, Joe Biden, appears to have gotten a small boost to his favorable ratings after the Convention. President Trump’s approval rating after the Republican Convention barely budged. The public highly disapproves of his handling of the pandemic but it likes his handling of the economy, despite the fact that unemployment remains high and the rescue package for working Americans was not renewed by the Republicans in the Senate.
In the Democrats’ case Biden represents a safe and widely accepted middle range political personality, whose agenda moved farther to the left, particularly on issues of economic inequality and race relations in the course of the primaries. He is on good terms with his former rivals in the primaries, most notably Bernie Sanders, whose energetic supporters Biden needs, and he even selected one of his primary rivals, Kamala Harris, as his running mate. The Democratic Party platform, therefore, is now closer to a social democratic agenda in European terms and looks favorably to a "green" agenda. It also prioritizes better and more cooperative relations with allies in Europe and Asia, just as it identifies China as the main strategic rival of the United States.
For the Republicans, the convention took place as a four-day ceremony of crowning Trump who appeared on the screen every night as party leader and his family as a new dynasty. For the first time in living memory they did not prepare a party platform, and accepted Trump’s preferences as the party’s. The convention was also marked by the complete absence of the pandemic from the speeches unless an alleged success was mentioned. Therefore, many commentators spoke of the complete ownership of the GOP by Trump. In the wake of the convention, as he did prior to it, Trump continued to ignore the pandemic and concentrated on law and order issues as the rage over police actions and racism generated mass movements and violence in some cities. Whether or not what worked for Richard Nixon in 1968 (another year notorious for urban violence) will work again, remains to be seen, given the fact that Trump has no intention of quelling the violence. As his departing aide Kellyanne Conway said "The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order."
What do the polls say?
Most pollsters are weary of making definitive statements given their failure to predict the Trump victory in 2016. A leading site such as FiveThirtyEight calculates on average that as of the beginning of September, Joe Biden is still ahead. But the law and order issue that is beginning to eat into the original popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement, may turn the tide against Biden and in favor of Trump. Most pundits agree that white, educated, suburban women hold the key to this election. Alienated by Trump, they are currently inclined to vote for Biden, but the mounting violence and its presentation by the administration and the media may change that stance.