The popularity of contesting is beyond dispute, but it is a relatively new aspect of the hobby. Indeed, the first publication dedicated exclusively to the sport--the National Contest Journal--did not even begin circulation in the United States until 1973, per Wikipedia. Contesting is popular partly because it plays to the human condition, which is to be competitive (there is nothing wrong with this, so long as competitiveness does not become all
consuming). To some extent, contesting builds technical proficiency...but does contesting do much to "foster international goodwill"? (see Part 97). An exchange of signal reports--invariably 5 x 9--QTH and class of station, then on to the next "qso". The more popular contests may be few in number, but make no mistake: there are a great many less popular contests throughout the year.
Contesting today is not as popular as “lurking”, meaning the tendency of a great many hams to sit on the sidelines, instead of engaging in substantive on-air conversations. To some extent, this inactivity reflects today's abysmal band conditions, but another factor impeding active participation in the hobby is the all-too prevalent HOA. Some have said, “Anyone who buys into an HOA community does so with their eyes wide open, and so is a fool!” For them, I have this response: in a great many parts of the country today, it is virtually impossible to find a home in a desirable neighborhood--good schools, low crime--that is not saddled by an HOA. The Parity Act in its present form is not the answer, because it concedes too much to the discretion of HOAs, while affording precious little protection to amateur operators.