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.
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.
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).
con·ven·tion / kənˈvenchən/ • n. 1. a way in which something is usually done, esp. within a particular area or activity: the woman who overturned so many conventions of children's literature. ∎ behavior that is considered acceptable or polite to most members of a society: social conventions. ∎ Bridge an artificial bid by which a bidder tries to convey specific information about the hand to their partner. 2. an agreement between countries covering particular matters, esp. one less formal than a treaty. 3. a large meeting or conference, esp. of members of a political party or a particular profession: a convention of retail merchants. ∎ (in the U.S.) an assembly of the delegates of a political party to select candidates for office. ∎ an organized meeting of enthusiasts for a television program, movie, or literary genre: a Star Trek convention. ∎ a body set up by agreement to deal with a particular issue.
An agreement or compact, particularly an international agreement, such as thegeneva convention. An accord between states or nations, which resembles a treaty: ordinarily applied to agreements prior to an execution of an official treaty or which serve as its foundation; or to international agreements for the regulation of international affairs of common interest not within the ambit of commercial transactions or politics, such as international postage. An agreement between states concerning finance, trade, or other matters considered less significant than those usually governed by a treaty. An assembly or meeting of representatives or members of legislative, political, or fraternal organizations.
A constitutional convention is an assembly of representatives or delegates of the people of a state or nation, convened for the purpose of framing, altering, or amending its constitution. Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides that a constitutional convention may be convoked on application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states.
A judicial convention is an assembly of judges of the superior courts (courts of general jurisdiction), empowered in some states to meet during specified periods to adopt uniform rules of practice. The powers of the convention are restricted to making necessary rules that conform to the provisions of the relevant statute. Revision or abrogation of any rule of practice established by statute is prohibited.
A legislative convention is a congregation of representatives or delegates selected by the people for extraordinary and special legislative objectives, such as the framing or alteration of a state constitution.
A political convention is an assembly of delegates designated by a political party to nominate candidates for a pending election.