Democratic convention fell flat with viewers. Republican convention may do the same.

In a normal election year, the parties’ political conventions represent the highest point of the year except for election night itself. This year, well, things aren’t looking so exciting.

So far, of course, we only have the Democratic National Convention to judge by, since the Republicans’ convention didn't start until Monday. But the Democratic convention wasn’t exactly a barn burner. According to New York City's Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio, he didn’t know the convention was last week: “I really didn’t even know the convention was coming up this week, is the truth.”

He probably wasn’t alone in that. There wasn’t much buildup — the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has barely been seen in public for months — and the news cycle has been occupied by everything from COVID-19, to Black Lives Matter riots, to murder hornets and asteroids and twin hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most Americans were not interested in the DNC

Most Americans don’t seem to have been much more interested than de Blasio, with the Democrats’ convention drawing a shockingly low TV audience — “America’s Got Talent” drew more viewers than the second night of the Democratic Convention.

Then again, “America’s Got Talent” has talent. The Democratic convention was notably lacking in that department. Oh, there were moments. On the important subject of criminal justice reform, the Democrats gave us Donna Hylton, who was convicted for her role in the kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of a 62 year old man. It takes a certain talent to come back from that and serve as a DNC speaker. Likewise, we saw Linda Sarsour, a leader of the Women’s March who was ousted for anti-Semitism, though the Biden campaign quickly disavowed her — after she spoke.

Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 20, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 20, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.

At the top of the ticket, of course, we had Joe Biden, who presented what was by all accounts a creditable speech, one that seemed more so by the lowered expectations brought about by Biden’s isolation, and a series of odd and largely unintelligible remarks he had offered on various subjects in recent months. (James Lileks says Biden benefits from ”the soft bigotry of Joe expectations.”) His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, was a primary candidate mostly noted for her harsh attacks on ... Joe Biden, and for her failure to win any actual delegates. (The one nonwhite Democratic primary candidate to actually win any delegates, meanwhile, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, wasn’t even invited to the convention.)

GOP chair: Democrats' doom-and-gloom convention no match for President Trump's forward-looking vision

A convention is supposed to boost its party in the polls. So far in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll, it’s Trump who surged during the Democratic convention. Maybe that’ll change with later polls, but it’s not a good sign. Measures of social media engagement found that the vast bulk of attention went to Michelle and Barack Obama. Biden came in a distant third, and — despite her “historic” selection — Harris barely registered.

Its the Republicans' turn next

Now the Republicans have their turn. Unlike the Democrats, who mentioned China — source of the coronavirus that has infected so many Americans and turned the global economy upside down — only once, and who said next to nothing about the urban rioting hollowing out so many big blue cities, you can expect the GOP to talk a lot about both.

As Byron York comments, urban violence is the Democrats’ elephant in the room: “Of course, all the cities involved — Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and others — are controlled by progressive Democrats. Indeed, the breakdown of order in those cities can be seen as a glaring failure of progressive governance on the issue of public safety. And the most energetic voices in the Democratic Party are not calling for the restoration of order — they're calling to defund the police. So it’s no wonder Democrats didn't talk about it in public. Doing so would highlight one of the party's failures and also showcase a division among Democrats about whether to create conditions, by defunding the police, that would invite even more disorder.”

Democrats also talked about a group of former Republican national security policymakers who are endorsing Biden. The Republicans will probably contrast those policymakers’ (and Biden’s) records — the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the debacles in Syria and Libya, the coddling of the People’s Republic of China — with Trump’s record of making peace in the Middle East, managing to neither start nor expand a war in his first term, and pushing back against China while rallying allies in the region to resist Chinese expansionism.

Convention season: On Democrats face reality as Trump Republicans fantasize

The good news for the Democrats is that not many people watched their convention. Republicans will have to wonder whether any more will watch theirs. And that’s not all because of party politics.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has been handled to no great effect by many governments all over the world, suggests that we’ve been putting too much faith in government as a tool to solve our problems. That could be part of the reason why so many people have tuned out on this election. Another might be that we’ve heard most of this before: Joe Biden, after all, has been in politics for half a century.

The challenge for the Republicans will be to offer something interesting enough to hold Americans’ attention — if they bother to tune in.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of "The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself," is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democratic National Convention: How it failed to draw viewers