Election Series Podcast

Ep. 17 Delegates and Conventions


Delegates and Conventions

So the purpose of the primaries is to determine how many delegates there are for each candidate. The delegates then go to their party’s conventions in the summer. There’s the RNC and DNC, Republican National Convention, and the Democratic National Convention. At the conventions, the parties’ platforms and presidential nominees are chosen.

  • How a delegate is chosen:
    • “The process of choosing delegates to go to the national convention is undertaken at the state level, which means that there are significant differences from state to state and sometimes year to year. The two methods for choosing delegates to the national convention are the caucus and the primary.
    • This system is fucked. There are 50 states, and some territories that participate in this process. And every fucking state is different. It’s hard to keep up! But, if you’re looking at it from ‘states’ rights’ perspective, it’s good that this process is still lead by the state.
    • “The Democratic Party always uses a proportional method for awarding delegates. The percentage of delegates each candidate is awarded (or the number of undecided delegates) is representative of the mood of the caucus-goers or the number of primary votes for the candidate. For example imagine a state with ten delegates and three candidates. If 60% of the people supported candidate X, 20% supported candidate Y, and 20% supported candidate Z, candidate X would receive six delegates and candidates Y and Z would each receive two delegates.
    • “The Republican Party, unlike the Democratic Party, allows each state to decide whether to use the winner-take-all method or the proportional method. In the winner-take-all method the candidate whom the majority of caucus participants or voters support receives all the delegates for the state.” https://votesmart.org/education/presidential-primary#.Vt8jNkbOHqk
  • Based on the delegate count, there is usually a clear candidate for whom the nominee will be. “Since 1976, in fact, no major party convention has opened with the identity of the nominee in question.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/06/AR2008020602173.html
    • 1976 marked the last party convention that opened with the identity of the nominee in question. The 1976 Republican convention chose Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan. On the Democratic side, the last time delegates faced a contested nomination was 1960, when John F. Kennedy faced opposition from Lyndon Johnson and Adlai Stevenson.


  • These delegates are supposed to take their cue from the voters who cast ballots during their state’s primaries and caucuses, though each party’s rules make it possible for multiple rounds of balloting and significant horse trading if no candidate is able to muster a majority on the first ballot.
  • Brokered convention: closely related to but not quite the same as a contested convention, either of which is sometimes referred to as an open convention, is a situation in which no single candidate has secured a majority of overall delegates, after the first vote for a political party’s presidential candidate at its national nominating convention.
  • Republican: Overall 2,348 will attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. All will have already pledged to whichever candidate won their state. To win the nomination, a candidate must win the votes of at least 1,237 delegates at the convention.
  • Democrats- roughly 2300



The RNC and DNC is done a bit differently. The DNC utilizes super delegates, while the RNC just goes off of the delegate count from the primaries and caucuses.

  • Democratic: Pledged delegates and superdelegates
    • The Democratic nomination process was altered to include superdelegates in 1984.
    • That year, former Vice President Walter Mondale won the Democratic nomination with strong support from party stalwarts. Some experts say Democratic candidate George McGovern’s landslide 1972 loss to Richard Nixon influenced the party’s introduction of superdelegates.
    • There was a view that the Democratic party had allowed the grass roots to become too empowered and that in too many instances, people whose job it was to get Democrats elected were being shut out of the process, says McGehee.
    • Superdelegates are current or former party leaders, including governors, senators, representatives, and former presidents and vice presidents.
    • Eighty percent of the total delegates, known as pledged delegates, are elected to represent a particular presidential candidate through caucuses and primaries in each state.
    • While voters will assign four-fifths of the delegates, the actual results could easily be decided by the remaining fifth — superdelegates.
    • The first thing to know about superdelegates is that there’s nothing super about them. They get one vote at the Democratic National Convention just like pledged delegates.
    • There are 717 unpledged, superdelegates
    • There’s an even more complicated level of pledged vs non-pledged delegates based on congressional districts. We’re not getting into that here.
    • Clinton-Sanders Superdelegates
    • Superdelegates shouldn’t be counted as delegates until the convention, in the way that exit poll findings aren’t released until polls close

Third Party (Independents)

  • The primary system is heavily filtered toward reinforcing the two major parties, making it very difficult for a third party or an outside candidate to succeed. Third parties, like the Green Party, can pick delegates for their own conventions. But because third party candidates rarely earn a large percentage of the primary vote, the candidates their delegates select tends to garner little national attention compared to the Democratic and Republican candidates.
  • Independents can play an important role in certain states, like New Hampshire, where a large number of voters are registered as independents. Still, a total of 18 states nationwide do not allow independents to vote in primaries at all.  Which, many feel, is voter suppression due to the fact that independants make up the majority of voters. More than republicans and democrats.


Importance of platform

  • According to Wikipedia: “In 2016, both the Republican and Democratic conventions will be held in late July before the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, instead of after the Olympics as in 2008 and 2012. One reason why the Republican Party scheduled their convention in July was to help avoid a longer, drawn-out primary battle similar to what happened in 2012 that left the party fractured heading into the general election. The Democrats then followed suit, scheduling their convention the week after the Republicans’ convention, to provide a quicker response”
  • Fun fact! “Due to increasing violence in the 2016 primary elections, the Cleveland Police Department has sought to purchase over 2,000 riot control gear sets prior to the convention”


So after the delegates have been decided, they go to their party’s convention where a nominee will be made for each party. Post-conventions mean it’s time for the general election. And the parties will go head to head until November when the next president is elected.

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