In the past, the parties’ candidates for president were not known before the convention, and often would not be nominated in the first round of voting. Now, the nominee is usually known beforehand, based on the number of delegates they have collected during the states’ presidential primaries and caucuses. The convention serves as a tool to ratify this nominee.
The number of delegates and how many each state receives is decided upon by the party committee. This year, the Democrats had 5,552 delegates and the Republicans had 2,286. The Democratic Party allocates delegates according to population, also factoring in the Electoral College strength and votes for Democratic Presidential candidates in past elections. The Republican Party allocates three delegates for every congressional district and six delegates for at large states. States can receive bonus delegates based on the state’s Republican vote for federal offices in previous elections.
The conventions themselves usually last around four days. Within this time, there is the Keynote Address, delivered by political figures or party officials, which sets the tone of the convention and the rest of the campaign. Credentials and rules are approved and the party platform is adopted. The last portion of the convention is the nominating speech, the nomination of the presidential and vice presidential candidates, and the nominees’ acceptance speeches.
This year, the Democratic National Convention will be held from September 3-6 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Republican Convention is from August 27-30 in Tampa, Florida. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be the nominees for the Democratic Party. Gov. Mitt Romney has received the number of delegates required to become the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party and selected Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential candidate.
In addition to the procedural and official functions performed at the national conventions, they also provide an opportunity to rally the base, energize the party and kick-off the general election season with fervor. Conventions have also proven to give presidential candidates a boost in the polls, or what is known as the “post-convention bump”. Since 1964, nearly every party has gotten a lift from is national party convention, and a few have propelled their candidates on the victory. But in many cases the post-convention support fades before it has an impact at the polls.
Third parties also hold national conventions although they occur earlier in the year and do not receive the media attention or the broadcast coverage the two major parties receive. The Green Party and Libertarian Party both held their conventions in May of this year. The Libertarian Party selected former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson as its presidential nominee and Judge James Gray as the vice presidential nominee. The Green Party nominated physician Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, an anti-poverty advocate.