It's been a while since the Democratic and Republican conventions captured voters' attention by actually deciding who the presidential nominees would be. But this year the parties are fighting to bring back some buzz with high-tech devices they hope will give some excitement to the four-day event.
With the Democratic National Convention starting in two weeks and the Republicans' get-together gearing up the following week, organizers of the events are putting a lot more effort into the use of technology this year. And both parties share the same goal: to get people more engaged in the political process.
Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said he has attended all the conventions since 1966 and they "have gotten less interesting."
"Maybe the high-tech show can keep people's interest, even though both conventions are cut-and-dry," he said.
"These are just televised propaganda shows," Sabato said. "There is nothing terribly interesting about the conventions. The press will make up a big deal out of it, but nobody cares. That's not how people vote."
But those planning the Democrats' get-together in Denver Aug. 25-28 and the GOP bash in St. Paul Aug. 31-Sept. 4 are responding with a barrage of technology — much of it related to social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube or Ustream.TV, which focus on creating online communities of shared interests in which the parties hope to spread their message.
Other big players like Microsoft, Cisco, Google and AT&T also will help run the conventions.
Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, an independent newsletter that analyzes elections, said that Democrats have put generally more effort into using social network to build support, "so I assume they will have some better luck using those kind of networks to draw attention to the conventions. [But] Republicans are trying to catch up."
Duffy added: "This is all a very new uncharted ground. If it makes them pay attention at all, technology can be successful, even if they have 100 more people watching it."
The GOP National Convention will be using Microsoft's Surface, a desktop touchscreen interactive program with information about the events for the visitors that will be available on monitors located around the convention hall.
"This is going to be the most tech-savvy convention in GOP history," GOP National Convention spokeswoman Yohana De La Torre said.
The GOP also will have up to six live video streams of different views of the convention simultaneously and will make them available at its Web site.
Max Everett, chief information officer of the Republican National Convention, said the main goal is to let people at home feel like they are at the convention.
"From past conventions, this convention really is almost exponentially expanding what we are doing," Everett said.
Democratic National Convention spokesman Damon Jones confirmed his party is putting a lot of effort into technology as well.
"Technology helps us spread the message and reach people," he said.
Jones said the Democrats are trying "to make the convention as open and accessible for more people than we've ever done before and technology is a key component of that."
For the first time, the Democratic convention is making the entire convention and its proceedings "from gavel-to-gavel live in HD (high definition) on the Web site, thanks to a technology that is being provided by Microsoft, which allows viewers to see everything going on inside of the convention hall and to choose their camera angle."
The Democrats for the first time are bringing together experts from Microsoft, Google, Comcast and other companies "to make sure we create the best experience for viewers looking at our website and to make sure that our technology was very respectful of the environment," Jones said.
Two of the main targets for both parties are Hispanics and young people.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in the U.S. as of July 2006 was of 44.3 million. Adults ages 20 to 29 comprised 42.3 million of the total U.S. population.
Brent A. Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he is not sure the Web-based strategy will attract Latinos, "because more Latinos watch Spanish-language television than browse Spanish-language Web sites or look at video on the Internet."
John White, program director of nonprofit GenerationEngage at Raleigh, N.C., said technology will allow young voters to get even more engaged in politics during the conventions.
"You have to make the connection to young adults, and using technology not only will help us the message get there but also make the connection and understanding the importance of being part of the election process," he said.
UVA's Sabato said Democrats are depending on a large youth vote for Obama and the use of technology will connect particularly well with those young voters,
Republicans "have developed the image of the funny-duddy McCain who never goes online and doesn't use a computer," he said. "To the extent that they appear to be more high-tech, that may make up for some of the deficit that they currently have with the young."
But officials of both parties said the high-tech gadgets won't eliminate some of the traditional, low-tech hallmarks of the conventions. So, yes, you can still watch the thousands of balloons drop — and the delegates in silly hats cheer whenever their state is mentioned.