In the pretelevision era, male delegates to the national conventions were often portrayed as old-time, cigar-smoking political pros who showed up every four years and the women delegates were pictured as middle-aged ladies wearing large, floppy hats. But a visual review of recent televised conventions and closer examination of recent polling data reveal that this old stereotype is now rather wide of the mark.
To most party activists, their selection as national convention delegates represents the culmination of one's party career. How many times do they attend national conventions? The common belief that national conventions are populated by the same group of loyal party "insiders" year in and year out is inaccurate. Delegate turnover is, on the contrary, high. Most delegates get the opportunity to attend a national convention only once in their lives.
Between 1944 and 1968, for example, approximately 63 percent of Democratic and 65 percent of the Republican delegates during this period had not previously attended a national convention. 1 Thus, roughly only one third of the delegates attending national conventions during this period could be described as experienced.
The 1980 conventions in both parties attracted the highest percentage of newcomer delegates in recent history--87 percent were first-timers for the Democrats, and 84 percent of the Republicans were attending their first convention. In 1992, approximately 51 percent of the Democratic delegates had been delegates to a previous convention. 2