The Democratic and Republican conventions are this month, leaving many tuning in but scratching their heads as to what the purpose of the ritual is. Many of us have heard rumors of smoke-filled convention halls where party bosses chose candidates in a not-so-open fashion, but if you’re reading this, chances are that is outside your experience.
Couple rule changes that have eliminated those smoke-filled rooms with diminished television coverage of conventions, and they may just appear to be glorified campaign rallies. However, conventions still serve a purpose beyond just pomp.
First, conventions do still allow the political party to change course if a popular candidate’s values don’t align with the party’s values. When you vote in a primary, you are actually voting for delegates who attend the convention and vote, you are not voting for the actual candidates. Those delegates could technically go another way once the convention starts. That is rare today, but the option is there.
Second, the party decides on its platform at the convention. A party’s platform is its set of core beliefs, principles and policies that will guide it through election season and beyond. It allows the party to define itself for the American people.
Third, the convention introduces America officially to the candidates and to the party’s values. Yes, you already know Donald Trump and Joe Biden. In fact, you may already know who you are voting for. But consider the fact that 44.3% of registered voters did not vote in the 2016 election and that there were many voters in 2016 who voted for Trump that also voted for Obama four years earlier. A large chunk of Americans stay home if they can’t support either candidate and elections in this country are largely decided by undecided voters and those who choose to stay home. The convention is an important part of defining who the candidates are for these voters.
Lastly, the convention usually gives candidates a bump in the polls after their respective conventions. While the size of those post-convention bounces may not decide the elections, they are an indicator that the convention plays a significant role in shaping voter behavior.
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