Global Ethics Corner: Are Party Conventions Necessary?

Aug 24, 2012

Do the presidential nominating conventions still serve a purpose in American politics? Do these events need to be reformed or scaled down? Or should they be scrapped altogether?

Like primary elections and the Electoral College, presidential nominating conventions are a staple of American politics. Held every four years in huge arenas and bringing together delegates, politicians, and fundraisers from across the country, the Republican and Democratic conventions are signs that the race for the White House is nearing its final stretch.

But are these conventions necessary?

When the major party conventions first started in 1832, they performed several important functions. They set the party's platform, they provided a forum for serious debates, and, most importantly, they nominated the party's presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Today, with the primaries long over, there is no question that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will secure their nominations in Tampa and Charlotte. And now that presidential campaigns are nearly 18-month affairs endlessly monitored by the press and social media, there's no real mystery about where the candidates and the parties stand on the important issues.

Critics contend that conventions are nothing more than made-for-TV events that come with hefty price tags, The federal government doles out $50 million to each host city just for policing.

Also troubling is the long list of prominent politicians who will be skipping this year's conventions. It seems they worry that convention appearances will affect their own tight election campaigns.

Still, some argue that the conventions are an important tradition and can greatly influence the national conversation. They can sway undecided voters and provide a platform for up-and-coming political stars. After all, President Obama was a little-known Illinois state senator before his popular speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

Do the conventions still serve a purpose in American politics? Do these events need to be reformed or scaled down? Or should they be scrapped altogether?

By Alex Woodson

For more information see:

Mary C. Curtis, "Charlotte prepares for Democratic National Convention protesters," Washington Post, August 8, 2012

"Public Opinion: Do Political Parties Still Need National Conventions?," U.S. News & World Report, August 25, 2008

Beth Reinhard, "How a Nominating Convention Is Like a Wedding," The Atlantic, August 7, 2012

Ed O'Keefe, "Republicans and Democrats in close races plan to skip parties' conventions," Washington Post, July 3, 2012

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:

PBS NewsHour


Barack Obama's photostream

D.M. Carter/Library of Congress

Cornell University Library

Gage Skidmore

Chuck Kennedy/White House



Staciaann Photography

U.S. Senate

House of Representatatives

U.S. Senate

Foo Conner

United States Congress

U.S. Senate

Barack Obama's photostream

Peter Rukavina


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