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How do conventions actually work?

With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions right around the corner, Elaine Kamarck takes a few minutes to detail topics that everyone talks about but few people understand: convention rules and convention delegates.

In 2016, much has been discussed about what may happen on the convention floors in Cleveland (RNC) and Philadelphia (DNC). Will unhappy Republicans wage a coup in an effort to topple the Trump candidacy? Will disaffected Sanders supporters seek to disrupt proceedings and extract concessions? Will all of the speculation be for naught and the conventions go as smoothly as they did four years ago?

In these videos, Kamarck succinctly discusses what the agenda of party conventions look like day-by-day and what processes must occur in order for the convention to do its ultimate job: be “the legal authority that nominates a party’s candidate for President of the United States.”

The conventions deal with the typically boring orders of business: approving credentials, approving the platform, and approving the rules. This year, some Republicans see the vote on rules as an opening to challenge Trump—a move that would turn the Republican National Convention upside down. The result would be a different type of convention—either contested or brokered, depending on how the process plays out, and Kamarck artfully describes the differences between the two.

One of the highlights of a convention is the actual roll call of delegates casting ballots for their party’s nominee(s) for president and vice president. The process that has led to that vote is quite complicated.  Over the past six months, states have held 51 primaries and caucuses for each party, and selected delegates who actually attend the conventions using a variety of procedures. Some states allocate delegates according to a winner-take-all, some proportionally, some based on a combination of statewide and congressional district performances among candidates.

In a second video, Kamarck explains how delegates are selected, what their role is at the convention, and what role “superdelegates” play in the Democratic contest. In 2016, superdelegates have become a controversial part of the primary process, and Kamarck—who is a superdelegate herself—explains what the role of these unique party officials have played historically.

Throughout the election season, keep tuning into the Brookings YouTube channel and the FixGov blog for more explanatory videos like these. 

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