Culture and Society

What functions do political conventions serve?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Initially, the purpose of the political convention was to give U.S. citizens more of a say in choosing their party's presidential candidate. Up until the 1800s, candidates had been chosen in secret by members of Congress. After that, party members selected delegates on the state and local levels to represent them and choose their party's candidate. Besides granting more control over the nomination process, conventions also served as an opportunity for a party's platform -- the issues and stances that are supposed to define its core beliefs -- to be hammered out. In today's media age, the drama generated from the political debates that once came with developing the platform has largely been done away with; platform issues are generally understood and don't tend to factor into the convention mix. Any signs of disunity within a party are typically handled discreetly, away from the convention floor. And any real news, such as Gerald Ford edging out Ronald Reagan for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination, or the riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention, just isn't made anymore. As a result, the modern political convention has come to resemble, well, a party, the goal of which is to bring people of shared ideology together to celebrate party unity, with any real divisions within the ranks glossed over. The several-days' agenda for a political convention is lined with speeches from party higher-ups, designed to rally the troops in preparation for the coming election. The culmination of the convention, of course, is the formal declaration of the party's nominee -- today largely a ceremonial exercise because the nominee is understood in advance.

    A key part of today's political conventions is the choice of venue and host city. In the early days, the decision of where to hold a political convention was based largely on a location's accessibility and convenience. However, national conventions in this age of mass communications and easy travel no longer need to be held in big cities, though they usually are anyway. Nowadays, the key factors used to choose a host city for a national political convention include the capacity of the city's infrastructure, its ability to provide adequate security and the personal preferences of party leaders. The host city, in turn, typically can expect a nice uptick in its local economy for the duration of the convention.

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