What Actually Happens At Conventions?

Photo: Getty Images.
After the seemingly never-ending primary circus, it's time for the main attraction under the big top: the national political conventions.

Republicans will gather in Cleveland on Monday for their four-day nominating event. A week later, in Philadelphia, it will be the Democrats' turn.

We know some of what will happen there: a lot of hand-waving and speeches; showers of red, white, and blue balloons and confetti; and the blaring of patriotic tunes. At the end of those two weeks, we’ll have two official major-party presidential candidates and we'll be able to settle down for the long haul to the actual elections in November.

Those are all the things we’ve come to expect from the conventions. But what’s actually meant to happen? Here are four things to know about what goes down at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

Ticketmaster can’t help you out here.

No matter how many times you tweeted in support of Bernie Sanders, the conventions aren’t open to the general public. To get access to the convention center itself, you generally need to fit into one of four categories: a party official, a delegate, the media, or one of the various support staff or official guest roles. If you happen to live in Cleveland or Philadelphia and want to party with the parties, there are usually some events that are accessible without specific credentials — the inevitable protests being the least of them.

It ain’t over until it’s over.

The convention is the moment when a candidate finally gets to remove the “presumptive” from the front of their title and get ready to rumble. A lot of the contentiousness has been removed from the political conventions since rule changes for primary elections were introduced after the infamous 1968 Democratic convention. But the convention is still where delegates officially vote in their party’s candidate for president. Many delegates are bound by primary results to vote for the candidate they’re allotted to at the convention. There is the slim possibility of an upset, however: in the event that no candidate wins the necessary majority in the first round of voting (something called a brokered convention), more delegates are free to vote for their own choice. Though it doesn’t look like a brokered convention is in the cards for 2016, it’s kept things interesting in previous years.

Let’s get on a platform.

Aside from actually nominating a candidate, the biggest official business that happens at conventions is the adoption of the official party platform. The platform outlines the major goals of the party and what it'll support and advocate for over the course of the next four years (until the next convention). It can cover everything from economic policy to social issues and foreign affairs; it can be a rough guide to the general stances of party members. The creation of the party platform was speculated to be the reason that Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders waited to drop out of the race even after Clinton had effectively won the nomination — staying it gave him a stronger position to leverage more liberal stances within the party platform.

You got it: a lot of schmoozing.

One of the biggest unofficial roles of the conventions is networking and making connections within the party. When Refinery29 spoke to delegates from both parties about their convention plans last month, Sanders delegate Eden McFadden spoke about the importance of being around the other delegates to connect and discuss the issues. "You want to be there to participate in these conversations," she said at the time. She noted that the hotels and breakfast meetings were opportunities to discuss political stances and make connections.

Of course, that's not even bringing up the rounds and rounds of speeches. Both conventions recently released lists of speakers, including the first lady on the Democratic side and House Speaker Paul Ryan for the GOP as likely headliners. No need to add the closing speakers — we can probably make some educated guesses.
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