Political Conventions

February 23, 1972

Report Outline
Approach of the 1972 Conventions
Development of Convention System
Proposals for Reform or Abolition
Special Focus

Approach of the 1972 Conventions

Uniqueness of the American Nominating System

The making of the president, 1972, already has begun. In precinct caucuses, in county, district and state conventions, and in primary elections beginning March 7 in New Hampshire, Democrats and Republicans are choosing or shortly will choose delegates to their national conventions. The Democrats will convene at Miami Beach on July 10 and the Republicans at San Diego on Aug. 21 to adopt party platforms and select nominees for President and Vice President. To the millions of Americans and foreigners looking on via television, the conventions probably will appear to be the usual confusing mixture of drama, tedium, and frivolity. Just as predictably, political commentators will complain that the convention system is unwieldy and ought to be reformed or replaced. The parties, however, will start to lay plans for the 1976 conventions even as they gird themselves for the 1972 presidential election campaign.

American national conventions, Theodore H. White has noted, “are a political phenomenon which most foreigners and many Americans fail to understand—for it is uniquely and particularly American, drawn from no handbook of political theory, designed by no master philosopher.” The American convention system essentially is an outgrowth of the constitutional separation of legislative and executive powers. In such parliamentary democracies as Britain and Canada, where the two powers reside in the national legislature, the main function of party conventions is to discuss and formulate policy. Only rarely are they called upon to choose a party leader who might later become prime minister.

In the United States, on the other hand, “conventions are bodies whose only real justification is that they present. men who will take over. the executive powers of the United States.…” In addition, the nomination gives “to the candidate the formal leadership of the party for four years, the command of the national party machinery, such as it is, and, for at any rate the months of the presidential campaign, allow[s] the nominee to make party policy and ignore or interpret with practically complete freedom, the declaration of policy, the ‘platform,’ that the convention presents to the voters as its formal program of action.”

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