Brokered Convention

rnc 2016

trump by Christoph Niemann

Political parties in the US hold conventions to select the party’s nominee for President, as well as to adopt a statement of party principles and goals known as the ‘platform.’ Since the 1970s, voting has for the most part been perfunctory; the selection of the major parties’ nominees have rarely been in doubt, so a single ballot has always been sufficient.

If there is no single candidate receiving a majority of delegates at the end of the primary season, a scenario called a brokered convention results, where a candidate is selected either at or near the convention, through political horse-trading and lesser candidates compelling their delegates to vote for one of the front runners. The closest to a brokered convention in recent years was at the 1976 Republican National Convention, when neither Gerald Ford nor Ronald Reagan received enough votes in the primary to lock up the nomination. Since then, candidates have received enough momentum to reach a majority through pledged and bound delegates before the date of the convention.

Before the era of presidential primary elections, political party conventions were routinely brokered. The Democratic Party required two-thirds of delegates to choose a candidate, starting with the first Democratic National Convention in 1832, and then at every convention from 1844 until 1936. This made it far more likely to have a brokered convention, particularly when two strong factions existed. The most infamous example was at the 1924 Democratic National Convention (the Klanbake), where the divisions between Wets and Drys on Prohibition (and other issues) led to 102 ballots of deadlock between frontrunners Alfred E. Smith and William G. McAdoo before dark horse John W. Davis was chosen as a compromise candidate on the 103rd ballot. Adlai Stevenson (of the 1952 Democratic Party) and Thomas E. Dewey (of the 1948 Republican Party) were the most recent ‘brokered convention’ presidential nominees, of their respective parties. The last winning nominee produced by a brokered convention was Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1932.

The Democratic Party’s 1968 convention might have been brokered if Robert F. Kennedy had not been assassinated. He had won most of the primaries, but not enough delegates were then selected by primaries to determine the presidential nominee. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had decided against running for a second term, still controlled most of the party machinery and used it in support of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who did not contest the primaries. If Kennedy had lived, the convention likely would have been divided between him and Humphrey’s supporters.

Several factors encourage a clear and timely decision in the primary process. First, candidates tend to get momentum as they go through the process because of the ‘bandwagon effect.’ Thus, one or two candidates will be portrayed by the media to voters as the front runner(s) as a result of their placement in the first primaries and caucuses, and as also-ran candidates drop out, their supporters will tend to vote for the leaders. Theorists have identified two types of political momentum, ‘piecemeal’ and ‘all-at-once,’ with different impacts on front-runners and those right behind them.

Secondly, political parties wish to avoid the negative publicity from a brokered convention as well as to maximize the amount of time the nominee has to campaign for the presidency itself. Especially on account of the desire to foster party unity in the months leading up to Election Day, it is considered possible if not probable that any ‘brokering’ that may be required for a future presidential convention will actually take place in the weeks and months leading up to the convention, once it becomes clear that no candidate will likely secure a majority of delegates without an agreement with one or more rivals. Such an agreement would likely commit the front runner to make some form of concession(s) in return, such as selecting the former rival as his/her vice presidential nominee. That was the case prior to the 1980 Republican National Convention. California Governor Ronald Reagan won the Presidential Nomination and chose George HW Bush as his vice presidential nominee despite former President Gerald Ford being the frontrunner for the slot.

One Comment to “Brokered Convention”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s