Election Special: Political Conventions

Roll call of states during the 2008 Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver. (Image by Qqqqqq via Wikimedia Commons)
Roll call of states during the 2008 Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver. (Image by Qqqqqq via Wikimedia Commons)

On this week’s election special we look at the history of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions.

The Democrats have convened this week in Philadelphia and picked Hillary Clinton as their nominee for November’s presidential election.

The Republican party met last week in Cleveland to nominate Donald Trump as its standard bearer.

The first nominating convention was held in Baltimore in 1831, a year before the 1832 election by the Anti-Masonic party, which picked former Attorney General William Wirt as its nominee. Wirt carried the state of Vermont in the November election, but finished fourth behind winner Andrew Jackson, who was a Democrat. For the next two decades, Baltimore was the traditional venue for national political conventions.

In the early days, the process was considerably less transparent than it is today. The vast majority of the delegates were selected through state caucuses, which the party bosses controlled, meaning the election was more a result of negotiations than any democratic process. The process began to open up in the late 1800s when western states began adopting primary elections to select delegates. Despite this, in 1968, Democrat Hubert Humphrey was able to secure his party’s nomination without participating in a single primary election — he earned all of his delegates through caucuses.

Following the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention, the party changed its preferred method of picking delegates to primary elections. The Republicans followed suit four years later. This, however has taken most of the drama out of the conventions.

In 1928, the Democrats took 103 ballots to pick their nominee, former Ambassador John W. Davis of West Virginia, who lost badly to incumbent Calvin Coolidge. The last brokered convention came in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson was selected by the Democrats on the third ballot. The last major party convention where the nominee was in doubt as the convention began was the 1976 Republican Convention, when Gerald Ford barely won the nomination over Ronald Reagan.

The nominating conventions are held in the summer preceding a presidential election. Because they’re held in the same year as the Summer Olympics, they’re scheduled to avoid conflicting with the international sporting event. Tradition since 1956 dictates that the incumbent party holds its convention second. Before that the Democrats went second every year back to 1864, except 1888. Until 2004, the Republican and Democratic conventions were held about a month apart on opposite ends of the Olympics. This year, the conventions are being held in back-to-back weeks, which is unusual.

Since 1860, Chicago has hosted the most conventions with 25. Conventions are often given to cities as a reward, or as way to attract more voters from that state. It’s not an accident that this year’s conventions are in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Since 2000 all conventions have been held in sports venues, usually basketball or hockey arenas. The last convention not held at a stadium was the 1996 Republican Convention in San Diego.

As the drama surrounding the conventions has waned, so has the coverage by the broadcast television networks. At one point the networks had gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions. Now, they’ve reduced that to an hour a day.

The conventions are usually four days long, with featured speakers during the evening hours each day. It was traditional until recently for the nominee to stay away from the convention until making an acceptance speech on the final day, but that tradition has fallen to the wayside in recent years.

Our question: Since 1900, which city, besides Chicago, has hosted the Democratic and Republican conventions in the same year?

If you have any election-related topics you’d like us to discus in a future episode, let us know on twitter @triviapodcast, or you can email podcast@triviapeople.com.

Today is Bagpipe Appreciation Day, National Scotch Day, and Walk on Stilts Day. I wouldn’t recommend celebrating all of those at once, but I’d pay to watch somebody try.

It’s the birthday of television producer and writer Norman Lear, who is 94; figure skater Peggy Fleming, who is 68; and actress Maya Rudolph, who is 44.

Because our topic doesn’t have a particular date associated with it, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1972, the top song in the U.S. was “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers.

The No. 1 movie was “Joe Kidd,” while the novel “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What is the largest number of in vitro fertilized babies to be born following one pregnancy?


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