Nominations & Conventions

Past Practices

Primaries and Conventions
related video
Tad Devine on national conventions.

Presidential primaries, where voters choose their nominees from various potential candidates, emerged quite recently.  For most of the 20th century in the era of “party bosses,” local party leaders controlled delegates, whom they chose in private party meetings or state conventions.  Delegates are people chosen to represent their states at national party conventions. They are often the earliest supporters of a presidential candidate and often include local leaders and active members of each party.  Until the 1960s, presidential candidates sought party nominations at the national party convention.  Those in attendance, including party leaders, arrived at the convention without knowing who would receive the nomination.  They only learned the nominee after a roll call vote of state delegations, a process that often occurred multiple times to select a candidate with a majority of the delegations’ support. 

By 1960, John F. Kennedy began to compete in primaries, something candidates had rarely done before. The 1968 Democratic Convention represented a huge turning point. The battle on the streets, and excessive police force, spilled into the convention.  Fistfights broke out on the floor, organizers excluded rebellious delegates, and the convention spiraled out of control.