Political Party Conventions Day-by-Day

Four Days of Speeches, Candidates and Lots of Politics

Balloons drop from ceiling at the Republican National Convention
Romney Accepts Party Nomination at The Republican National Convention. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The United States presidential nominating conventions are held during the spring or summer of each quadrennial presidential election year by most political parties fielding nominees in the November presidential election. Along with selecting the party’s nominee for president, delegates to the conventions adopt the party’s platform—the party’s principals and goals for its candidate's presidential administration.

Most delegates to the conventions are selected through the presidential primary elections and caucus process and are pledged to vote for a specific presidential candidate during the nominating process. Other delegates, called “unpledged delegates” are seated automatically due to their status in the political party and are free to vote for the nominee of their choice.

The cities hosting the conventions are selected by the national party organizations based on factors including availability of meeting space, lodging facilities, entertainment opportunities, and economic incentives. As they have grown into major, highly-publicized events drawing intense media coverage, the conventions offer significant economic benefits to the host cities.

Although the U.S. presidential nominations have largely been settled during the primary/caucus cycle in recent elections, the national political party conventions continue to be an important part of the American political system. As you watch the conventions, here's what's happening on each of the four days.

Day 1: The Keynote Address

Coming on the first evening of the convention, the keynote address is the first of many, many speeches to follow. Typically delivered by one of the party's most influential leaders and speakers, the keynote address is designed to rally the delegates and stir their enthusiasm. Almost without exception, the keynote speaker will emphasize the accomplishments of his or her party, while listing and harshly criticizing the shortcomings of the other party and its candidates. Should the party have more than one candidate seriously vying for nomination at the convention, the keynote speaker will conclude by urging all party members to make peace and support the successful candidate in the upcoming campaign. Sometimes, it even works.

Day 2: Credentials and Platforms

On the convention's second day, the party's Credentials Committee will determine the eligibility of each delegate to be seated and vote for nominees. Delegates and alternates from each state are typically chosen well before the convention, through the presidential primary and caucus system. The Credential Committee basically confirms the identity of the delegates and their authority to vote at the convention.

Day-two of the convention also features the adoption of the party's platform -- the stance their candidates will take on key domestic and foreign policy issues. Typically, these stances, also called "planks," have been decided well before the conventions.

The platform of the incumbent party is usually created by sitting president or the White House staff. The opposition party seeks guidance in creating its platform from its leading candidates, as well as from leaders of business and industry, and a wide range of advocacy groups.

The party's final platform must be approved by a majority of the delegates in a public roll-call vote.

Day 3: The Nomination

At last, what we came for, the nomination of candidates. To win the nomination, a candidate must get a majority -- more than half -- of the votes of all delegates. When the nominating roll call begins, each state's delegate chairman, from Alabama to Wyoming, may either nominate a candidate or yield the floor to another state. A candidate's name is officially placed into nomination through a nominating speech, delivered by the state chairman. At least one seconding speech will be delivered for each candidate and the roll call will continue until all candidates have been nominated.

At last, the speeches and demonstrations end and the real voting begins. The states vote again in alphabetical order. A delegate from each state will take the microphone and announce something very similar to, "Mr. (or Madame) Chairman, the great state of Texas casts all of its XX votes for the next president of the United States, Joe Doaks." The states may also split the votes of their delegations between more than one candidate. The roll call vote continues until one candidate has won the magic majority of the votes and is officially nominated as the party's presidential candidate. Should no single candidate win a majority, there will be more speeches, a lot more politics on the convention floor and more roll calls, until one candidate wins. Due mainly to the influence of the primary/caucus system, neither party has required more than one roll call vote since 1952.

Day 4: Picking a Vice Presidential Candidate

Just before everybody packs up and heads home, the delegates will confirm the vice presidential candidate named in advance by the presidential candidate. The delegates are not obligated to nominate the presidential candidate's choice for vice president, but they always do. Even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion, the convention will go through ​the same cycle of nominations, speeches, and voting.

As the convention closes, the presidential and vice presidential candidates deliver acceptance speeches and the unsuccessful candidates give rousing speeches urging everyone in the party to pull together to support the party's candidates.

The lights go out, the delegates go home, and the losers start running for the next election.