With the advent of television and the widespread adoption of primaries, the national parties' nominating conventions have largely been reduced from decision-making bodies to a rubber stamp function. The conventions are, in fact, tightly scripted made-for-TV spectacles. Nonetheless, these quadrennial gatherings still fulfill a vital function in the life of the political parties and can provide a boost for the nominee.
The Changing Character of ConventionsIn the past, the national convention served as a decision-making body, actually determining the party's nominee. For example, the 1924 Democratic National Convention in New York lasted 17 days and required 103 ballots to select John Davis as the nominee. The last Democratic Convention to go beyond one ballot occurred in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson won on the third ballot; the 1948 Republican Convention went to a third ballot before New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey won the nomination. Republicans had a close vote in 1976 in Kansas City when President Ford prevailed over Ronald Reagan by 1187 votes to 1070 votes.
Two significant changes have occurred in recent decades. First, most of the national convention delegates are now selected by voters in primary contests rather than by party caucuses and meetings. Second, with the advent of television, conventions have become tightly scripted made-for-TV spectacles. Each party seeks to present itself in the best possible light and to demonstrate a united front rather than to hash out its differences.
One could argue that modern day conventions are little more than four-day advertisements for the political parties. Because there is no longer much suspense, conventions have suffered declining viewership, coverage by the major networks has been cut, and some observers have suggested that the conventions themselves should be cut to three days.
The conventions may have been reduced to rubber stamps, but they still fulfill a vital function in the life of the political parties. In many ways, the essence of a convention is what happens off of the convention floor. In the lead-up to the convention, the drafting of the party platform provides interests aligned with the party a forum to present their concerns. During the days of the convention itself, hundreds of events, caucuses, receptions, breakfasts, fundraisers, and parties take place in the hotels surrounding the convention hall. At the end of the convention, party activists return to their communities energized for the fall campaign and, if all goes well, the presidential ticket emerges with a convention bounce.
The major party conventions are funded and supported by non-partisan, non-profit host committees, by grants from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (the $3 income tax check-off), and to a lesser degree by local taxpayers. Host committees fulfill a range of functions. Early on they promote the city's bid. If the city is successful, as in the case of Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the host committee sets to work raising money and in-kind services, recruiting volunteers and organizing events and activities to welcome delegates and media. In addition to host committee support, the Democrats and Republicans have each received grants for their conventions totalling $13,512,000 million from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. [The parties each received an initial payment of $13.2 million in July 1999 and a further $288,000 in March 2000; the overall amount is the $4 million set in 1974 by the Federal Election Campaign Act plus a cost-of-living adjustment]. The Reform Party has been certified to receive a grant of $2,468,921 to put on its convention (FEC, Nov. 22, 1999).
The Republicans: Day-to-day planning for the 2000 Republican National Convention is proceeding under the direction of convention manager Chip DiPaula and a team working out of Philadelphia offices. The RNC's 62-member Committee on Arrangements (COA), co-chaired by Jan Larimer of Wyoming and Alec Poitevint of Georgia, has overall responsibility for planning and running nearly all aspects of the convention. The COA held its first meeting on July 7, 1999 and has formed 11 subcommittees covering areas from technology to transportation. The host committee, Philadelphia 2000, has been raising money and will be mobilizing city residents to provide a warm welcome for convention-goers.
party's philosophy and priorities. Truth be told party platforms
are not widely read documents, but the process of writing a platform
the party the opportunity to publicly seek input from its various
During platform discussions some points of contention do arise, such as
the Republican Party's quadrennial battle over its abortion plank, but
generally any major dissension is ironed out before the platform
the big networks have been giving less coverage to major party
in recent years, they generally have ignored third party conventions
Fortunately C-SPAN does cover these gatherings, as they provide one of
the best opportunities to learn about ideas and viewpoints beyond those
of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Republican National Convention
Republican National Coalition for Life
Republican Pro-Choice Coalition
The R2K Network
Unity 2000 March and Rally--July 30, 2000
Philadelphia Direct Action Group
Shadow Conventions 2000
Convention Demonstration Permit Application Process (Philadelphia Police Department)
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Report: "Blacks and the 2000 Republican National Convention" (July 28, 2000)
Site Selection Process: Why L.A. and Philly?
Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.
|Logo used in 1999 and the first part of 2000||New logo launched June 14, 2000.|
Police had large presences in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles to respond to demonstrators. There were about 400 arrests in Philadelphia, while the LAPD reported making 194 arrests. However, many cases were dropped or led to acquittals, and a number of civil suits ensued.