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Brokered Political Conventions: Explained from Start to Finish

Brokered Political Conventions Explained
Ever wonder what would happen if nobody wins the nomination for President from a major political party?
OpinionFront Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Each election year, as the convention dates draw closer, a leader is generally already apparent. Out of the entire field, one candidate usually emerges as a front-runner and presumptive candidate, but that's not always the case. Remember the Obama/Clinton tug-of-war in 2008! That one eventually resolved itself, but that doesn't mean that it always does. So what then?
First, you need to understand how a party chooses its candidate. Each state holds its primary election at different times throughout the early part of the year. Election laws vary from state to state regarding who exactly can vote in these elections. Sometimes only voters registered to that party can vote for a candidate, other times anybody can vote, regardless of party affiliation.
The delegates from that state pledge their convention votes to the winning candidate, all or nothing. If candidate A wins 52 percent of the popular vote and candidate B wins 36 percent, candidate A gets all the delegates' votes. Some argue that this system is unfair, and that delegates should be awarded based upon percentage of the popular vote. This would give candidate A 52 percent of the delegates and candidate B 36 percent. But the way things stand today, candidate A still gets them all, regardless of how slim the margin is, essentially negating the votes of supporters of the opposition (the basis of the 'unfairness' argument).
Once all the primaries have been held, the delegates and candidates gather at the party's convention. The delegates place their votes (according to who won their states' primaries), and the candidate with the majority wins the party's nomination. But here's the thing - because the field of candidates is potentially large, there is no guarantee that anyone will win a majority. If there were only two candidates, one would get more than the other, obviously, securing the majority. But when the field contains three or more people, the numbers get complicated.
Brokered Convention
Vote ballot with box
Without a majority, there's no winner. So the party turns to what is called a 'brokered' convention to choose the candidate. All the delegates are released from their obligation to place their vote for the winner of their state's primary, and cast another vote for the candidate of their choice. This usually results in a majority winner. Delegates cast their first vote according to their state's wishes, which may or may not run counter to their own (or at least they're supposed to). But when they are allowed the power to make their own decision, the numbers change.

If the delegate's vote is different from their state's primary winner, doesn't that mean that the wishes of the state's voters are being ignored? Well, yes. But the delegates' second vote are not based on personal feelings alone. Politics is a game of favors, and a brokered convention is when the deal-making begins.
Final Candidate
Man giving speech
The candidate who emerges from a brokered convention as the party's final pick is not necessarily the most experienced, or the smartest, or the most diplomatic. It is basically the one who has the ability to make the most promises and slap the most backs. Depending upon the deals made in exchange for delegates, the states can come out winners in a way, but the voters will most likely never see the perks that come later - they only know that the guy who made it wasn't their guy.
A brokered convention can be a nightmare for the party's higher-ups, if the candidate who makes it through is one that may be on the fringe of the party's belief system. It can also turn out to be a nightmare for the opposing party, if the initial primary field is weak and the party higher-ups decide to throw a potentially strong candidate into the mix. You see, a brokered convention is not limited to the candidates who participated in the primaries. It could be someone out of left field, who, although they may not fire up the base enough to get on a primary ballot, is moderate enough to court voters from both parties and ultimately beat the incumbent in a general election.