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Study Notes

National Nominating Convention

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

National Nominating Conventions are huge rallies that the major political parties put on in the run up to a Presidential Election which officially marks the end of the primary election season and the beginning of the General Election campaign. It is here that the party’s nominee is officially confirmed. However, the nominee is often known in advance and they are now more ceremonial than practical.

Typically, it is just the Democrats and Republicans that put on their conventions, but smaller parties have been known to put on conventions too. These have included the Green Party USA, Socialist Party USA, Libertarian Party, Reform Party and the Constitution Party.

When hosting the conventions, it is often traditional for the party of the incumbent President to go second. Conventions will typically take place in July or August.

At the conventions, state delegates, which are agreed before the primary process will cast their votes for whoever has won the state during the primary process. Some states operate a proportional system in which candidates will win the support of a percentage of delegates depending on their vote share, whilst others will adopt a winner take all system. In recent conventions however the party already knows who the nominee is going to be.

In conventions where the nominee is not known in advance, it is known as brokered convention. However, parties will normally seek to avoid this as a party that knows who the nominee is going to be looks united. In addition to the the other candidates may well ‘surrender’ the delegates they had won during the primary seasons in order for the party to look united.

Functions of Conventions

There are both formal and informal functions of the National Nominating Conventions.

Formal Functions

  • Choosing the Presidential Candidate
  • Choosing the Vice Presidential Candidate
  • Deciding on the Party Platform – This will be a statement of the party’s policies that they will implement if they win the election. Similar to a UK General Election Manifesto

Informal Functions:

  • Creating party unity – The convention is the only time the party meets as a whole. Between elections the party is essential just 50 state parties operating on their own
  • Excite the party faithful – Allows those party members to really get behind the candidate and believe in them
  • Excite ordinary voters into voting for their candidate.

However, despite all the functions, some political commentators have declared that party conventions are now no longer important. This is based on the fact that the nominees are known in advance, the Vice Presidential candidates are chosen by the nominee and not the convention, TV stations no longer air the full conventions and the presence of spin in the conventions to make the party look united.

On the other hand it can be argued that conventions still maintain an important place in US politics as the informal functions are still important, a disunited part loses elections as the Republicans did in 1992.

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