The Democratic National Convention (DNC) is a series of presidential nominating conventions held every four years since 1832 by the United States Democratic Party. They have been administered by the Democratic National Committee since the 1852 national convention. The primary goal of the Democratic National Convention is to officially nominate a candidate for president and vice president, adopt a comprehensive party platform and unify the party. Pledged delegates from all fifty U.S. states and from American dependencies and territories such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and superdelegates which are unpledged delegates representing the Democratic establishment, attend the convention and cast their votes to choose the Party's presidential candidate. Like the Republican National Convention, the Democratic National Convention marks the formal end of the primary election period and the start of the general election season. In 2020 all parties replaced the usual conventions with short online programs.
The party's presidential nominee is chosen primarily by pledged delegates, which are in turn selected through a series of individual state caucuses and primary elections. Pledged delegates are classified into three categories:
- At-large pledged delegates are allocated and elected at the statewide level.
- District pledged delegates are allocated and elected at a district level, usually the congressional district, but sometimes by state or territory legislative district.
- Add-on or PLEO pledged delegates, which allow for representation by party leaders and elected officials within the state.
Unpledged superdelegates, delegates whose votes are not bound to the outcome of a state's caucus or primary, only vote in the event of a contested nomination. These superdelegates may also be called unpledged PLEO (party leaders and elected officials) delegates.
The size of delegations to the Democratic National Convention, for each state, territory, or other political subdivision, are described in the party's quadrennial Call for the Democratic National Convention.
Pledged delegate allocation
Allocation formula for the 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.
Since 2012, the number of pledged delegates allocated to each of the 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. is based on two main factors: (1) the proportion of votes each state gave to the Democratic candidate in the last three presidential elections, and (2) the number of electoral votes each state has in the Electoral College.
- SDV = The state's Democratic vote in the indicated presidential election
- TDV = The nationwide total Democratic vote in the indicated presidential election
- SEV = The state's electoral votes
Step 3: Finally, the jurisdiction's base delegation is used to calculate the number of its District, At-Large, and pledged PLEO (party leaders and elected officials who are not superdelegates) delegates (fractions 0.5 and above are rounded to the next highest integer):
Allocations to other jurisdictions
Jurisdictions without electoral votes are instead given a fixed amount of pledged delegates. In 2020, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands each get six at-large delegates. Democrats Abroad gets 12 at-large and one pledged PLEO.
The Democratic Party awards bonus pledged delegates to each jurisdiction based on two factors: timing and clustering. The timing criteria is based on when the state holds its primaries/caucuses, with those states scheduling their contests in May and June getting the higher bonus. For clustering, three or more neighboring states must concurrently begin on the same date.
The bonus awarded is then a percentage increase in the jurisdiction's delegation (rounded to the nearest integer). A fourth of the bonus delegates are then designated as District, and the other three-fourths become At-Large.
- Timing Stage 1 (before April): No bonus
- Timing Stage 2 (April): 10 percent increase
- Cluster: 15 percent increase
- Both Timing Stage 2 and Cluster: 25 percent increase
- Timing Stage 3 (May and June): 20 percent increase
- Both Timing Stage 3 and Cluster: 35 percent increase
Awarding delegates to the candidates
Based on the results of each of the primaries and caucuses, pledged delegates are awarded to the candidates under proportional representation, where candidates who get 15 percent or more of the popular vote in a state divide its delegates in proportion to its votes (those who get under 15 percent of the votes in a state do not get any of its delegates). District delegates are proportionally allocated based on the popular vote in each of their respective districts, and both at-large and pledged PLEO delegates are proportionally allocated based on the statewide vote.
A superdelegate is an unpledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention who is seated automatically and chooses for themselves for whom they vote. These superdelegates include elected officials, and party activists and officials. They make up slightly under 15 percent of all convention delegates.
Superdelegates fall into four categories:
- Elected members of the Democratic National Committee
- Democratic Governors, including territorial governors and the Mayor of the District of Columbia
- Democratic Members of Congress, District of Columbia shadow senators and non-voting House members.
- Distinguished party leaders (consisting of current and former Presidents, Vice Presidents, congressional leaders, and DNC chairs)
Democratic superdelegates are free to support any candidate for the presidential nomination. On August 25, 2018, the Democratic National Committee agreed to reduce the influence of superdelegates by generally preventing them from voting on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention, allowing their votes only in a contested nomination.
In 1832 and 1844 to 1936, any nomination for president was required to have a majority of two-thirds of the total number of delegates. Unless there was a popular incumbent, something that only happened three times between the Civil War and World War II, getting that many votes on the first ballot was implausible.
The choice was an often contentious debate that riled the passions of party leaders, and delegates were forced to vote for a nominee repeatedly until someone could capture a minimum number of delegates required. This was demonstrated at the conventions of 1852, 1856, 1868, 1912, 1920 and most notoriously 1924, where the voting went on for more than a dozen ballots, while in 1860, the convention deadlocked after 57 ballots, during which 50 Southern delegates walked out, and separate conventions nominated separate Northern and Southern tickets.
Backroom deals by party bosses were normal and often resulted in compromise nominees that became known as dark horse candidates, people who never imagined they would run for president until the last moments of the convention. Dark horse candidates were chosen in order to break deadlocks between more popular and powerful prospective nominees that blocked each other from gaining enough delegates to be nominated. One of the most famous dark horse candidates nominated at a Democratic National Convention was James K. Polk, who was chosen to become the candidate for president only after being added to the eighth and ninth delegate ballot.
The rules were changed to a simple majority in 1936. Since then, only one multi-ballot convention (in 1952) has taken place.
Before 1972, the party's choice of the vice-presidential nominee was usually not known until the last evening of the convention. This was because the presidential nominee had little to do with the process and in many cases was not known at the start of the convention. In 1944 and 1956, the nominee let the convention choose the running mate without a recommendation, leading to multi ballot voting, and other times, successful attempts to sabotage the nominee by scattering delegate votes for someone else besides his choice, as in 1972 and 1980, led to disruptions.
In order to prevent such things from happening in the future, the presumptive nominee has, since 1984, announced their choice before the convention even opened, and they have been ratified by voice vote.
By 1824, the congressional nominating caucus had fallen into disrepute and collapsed as a method of nominating presidential and vice presidential candidates. A national convention idea had been brought up but nothing occurred until the next decade. State conventions and state legislatures emerged as the nomination apparatus until they were supplanted by the national convention method of nominating candidates.
President Andrew Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet" privately carried out the plan for the first Democratic National Convention; the public call for the first national convention emanated from Jackson's supporters in New Hampshire in 1831.
The first national convention of the Democratic Party began in Baltimore on May 21, 1832. In that year the rule was created, requiring a 2/3 vote to nominate a candidate in order to show the party's unanimous support of Martin Van Buren for vice president. Although this rule was waived in the 1836 and 1840 conventions, in 1844 it was revived by opponents of former President Van Buren, who had the support of a majority (but not two-thirds) of the delegates, in order to prevent him from receiving the nomination. The rule then remained in place until 1936, and on seven occasions this led to Democratic National Conventions which dragged on endlessly, most famously at the 1860 convention, when the convention adjourned in Charleston without making a choice after 57 ballots and reconvened in separate groups six weeks later, and the 1924 convention, when "Wets" and "Drys" deadlocked between preferred candidates Alfred E. Smith and William G. McAdoo for 103 ballots over 16 days before finally agreeing on John W. Davis as a compromise candidate. At the 1912 convention, Champ Clark was the first person to receive a majority of the votes who did not go on to achieve a two-thirds vote and the nomination. The 2/3 rule was finally abolished in 1936, when the unanimity in favor of the renomination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed it finally to be put to rest.
In the years that followed only one convention (the 1952 Convention) actually went beyond a single ballot.
During the time the rule was in force, it virtually assured that no candidate not supported by the South could be nominated. The elimination of the two-thirds rule made it possible for liberal Northern Democrats to gain greater influence in party affairs, leading to the disenfranchisement of Southern Democrats, and defection of many of the latter to the Republican Party, especially during the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s.
William Jennings Bryan delivered his "Cross of Gold" speech at the 1896 convention. The most historically notable, and tumultuous, convention in recent memory was the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, which was fraught with highly emotional battles between conventioneers and Vietnam War protesters and an outburst by Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley. Other confrontations between various groups, such as the Yippies and members of the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Chicago police in city parks, streets and hotels marred this convention. Following the 1968 convention, in which many reformers had been disappointed that Vice President Hubert Humphrey, despite not having competed in a single primary, easily won the nomination over Senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern (who announced after the assassination of another candidate, Senator Robert F. Kennedy), a commission headed by Senator McGovern reformed the Democratic Party's nominating process to increase the power of primaries in choosing delegates in order to increase the democracy of the process. Not entirely coincidentally, McGovern himself won the nomination in 1972. The 1972 convention was significant in that the new rules put into place as a result of the McGovern commission also opened the door for quotas mandating that certain percentages of delegates be women or members of minority groups, and subjects that were previously deemed not fit for political debate, such as abortion and lesbian and gay rights, now occupied the forefront of political discussion.
The nature of Democratic (and Republican) conventions has changed considerably since 1972. Every four years, the nominees are essentially selected earlier and earlier in the year, so the conventions now officially ratify the nominees instead of choose them (even the close race of 2008, which was not decided until early June, did not change the modern function of the convention). The 1980 convention was the last convention for the Democrats that had even a sliver of doubt[by whom?] about who the nominee would be. (Ted Kennedy forced a failing vote to free delegates from their commitment to vote for Jimmy Carter). The 1976 convention was the last where the vice-presidential nominee was announced during the convention, after the presidential nominee was chosen (Carter choosing Walter Mondale). After the "ugly" conventions of 1968 and 1972, the parties realized it was in their interests to show a unified party to the nation during the convention, and to try to eliminate any dissent. And as the conventions became less interesting, and television ratings have generally declined (as they have on average for all television shows), the networks have cut back their coverage significantly, which in turn has forced the parties to manage what is televised even more closely.
Prior to the 2020 convention in Milwaukee (which, due to COVID-19 was moved from the larger Fiserv Forum to the smaller Wisconsin Center), the 1984 convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco was the last Democratic Convention to be held in a convention center complex; all others since then have been held at sports stadiums or arenas.
- List of Democratic National Conventions
- History of the United States Democratic Party
- Democratic Party
- Republican National Convention
- Exceptions are the 1835 national convention, which occurred 3 years after the 1832 national convention, and the 1840 national convention, which occurred 5 years after the 1835 national convention.
- "Call for the 2020 Democratic National Convention" (PDF). Democratic National Committee. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
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- The American Presidency Project, contains the text of the national platforms that were adopted by the conventions (1840–2004)