Political Conventions

convention

convention, in U.S. politics, a gathering of delegates to nominate candidates for elective office and to formulate party policy. They are held at the national, state, and local levels.

Organization and Characteristic Features

The organization of a national convention is the responsibility of the party's national committee, which begins making arrangements for the accommodation of hundreds of delegates and the administration of the convention at least a year in advance. Delegates have been chosen by a variety of methods, including primary elections, party caucuses, state and local conventions, or state and local committee meetings, but the majority are now chosen by primaries. Although the two parties follow the same basic pattern of basing representation on the population of the state and the party's strength within the state, the Democratic party introduced a series of reforms after the 1968 convention that modified its traditional delegate selection system. Quotas, assuring proportional representation for women, youths, and blacks, were used for the 1972 convention but later modified in favor of a general commitment to gender equality and minority representation. Balloting at both the Republican and Democratic conventions is by states. The unit rule, forcing all of a state's votes to be cast by the majority for one candidate, was abolished by the Democrats in 1968; it had been in effect since 1832. Although today the acceptance speech of the nominee is the recognized climax of the convention, it was not until Franklin Delano Roosevelt flew to Chicago to accept the Democratic nomination in 1932 that a nominee accepted the nomination in person.

History

State conventions for nominating candidates were first held in the early 19th cent. The first national convention was held by the Anti-Masonic party in Baltimore in 1831. Formerly the candidates for president and vice president were selected by a party caucus, i.e. a meeting of influential members of Congress, and they favored their colleagues. In 1832 the Democrats nominated Andrew Jackson at a national convention. The Republican party held its first national convention in 1856, when John Frémont was chosen as the presidential candidate.

Candidates were often selected only after many ballots had been taken. This was especially true of the Democratic party, which, until 1936, had required successful nominees to win two thirds of the delegates' votes. Thus, Stephen Douglas was nominated on the 59th ballot in 1860, Woodrow Wilson on the 46th ballot in 1912, and John W. Davis on the 103d ballot in 1924. The difficulty of gaining agreement on a candidate at conventions led to a unique feature of the American political scene: the dark horse—a candidate with little or no formal support before the opening of the convention, who succeeded in gaining the nomination. Since 1960, however, national conventions have tended to ratify front-runner candidates increasingly determined by delegates won in primaries and state caucuses, rather than select from among evenly matched rivals. National political conventions have thus changed from their initial function as nominating mechanisms into mobilizers of party energy for the upcoming campaign.

Bibliography

See P. T. David et al., The Politics of National Party Conventions (rev. ed. 1984); Congressional Quarterly, Guide to U.S. Elections (2d ed. 1985); B. E. Shafer, Bifurcated Politics: Evolution and Reform in the National Party Convention (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789-1832
James S. Chase.
University of Illinois, 1973
U.S. Presidential Primaries and the Caucus-Convention System: A Sourcebook
James W. Davis.
Greenwood Press, 1997
Crowded Out: American Political Conventions: Part One
Davies, Philip John.
Contemporary Review, Vol. 276, No. 1608, January 2000
Crowded Out: American Political Conventions: Part Two
Davies, Philip John.
Contemporary Review, Vol. 276, No. 1609, February 2000
Does Organization Matter? A Critical-Case Analysis from Recent Presidential Nomination Politics
Trish, Barbara.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 4, December 1999
The Party's Choice
William R. Keech; Donald R. Matthews.
Brookings Institution, 1976
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Six "The Convention's Decision"
The Life of the Parties: Activists in Presidential Politics
Ronald B. Rapoport; Alan I. Abramowitz; John McGlennon.
University of Kentucky Press, 1986
Do Primary Voters Draw from a Stacked Deck? Presidential Nominations in an Era of Candidate-Centered Campaigns
Steger, Wayne P.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 4, December 2000
Theories of Coalition Formation
James P. Kahan; Amnon Rapoport.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1984
Librarian’s tip: "The Political Convention Paradigm" begins on p. 259
Nominating the President: The Politics of Convention Choice, with a New Postscript on 1964
Gerald Pomper.
W. W. Norton, 1966
Hats in the Ring
Malcolm Moos; Stephen Hess.
Random House, 1960
Presidential Nominating Politics in 1952
Paul T. David.
The Johns Hopkins Press, vol.1, 1954
Political Conventions, Images, and Spin
Hoffmann, Gregg.
ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 62, No. 1, January 2005
'A Snarling Roughhouse:' the Democratic Convention of 1924
Ranson, Edward.
History Today, Vol. 44, No. 7, July 1994
Campaign Talk: Why Elections Are Good for Us
Roderick P. Hart.
Princeton University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Political Conventions" begins on p. 104
We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era
Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters.
State University of New York Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "The National Black Political Convention, 1972-84"
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