Statistics on Contested or "Brokered" Conventions

Statistics on Contested or "Brokered" Conventions
R.C. Sautter notes for Bruce DuMont's nationally syndicated radio show,
"Beyond the Beltway" ( 12/20/15

Since the first Democrat convention in 1832 held in a Baltimore saloon to re-nominate President Andrew Jackson, and for vice president, New York Senator Martin Van Buren, there have been 46 presidential elections.

Times two major party conventions per year = 92 Conventions, plus a few third party conventions of notes since 1832.

Of those 92 conventions, only 26 conventions, or 28 percent, have gone to more than one ballot to nominate a party presidential candidate...

Most of those were because of the Democrat Party Two-Thirds Rule, whereby a candidate needed 2/3rds of delegates versus a simple majority to get the nomination. The Two-thirds Rule was written by the Southern wing of the Democrat party to insure they would always have veto power on the race issue. FDR succeeded in getting the rule abolished in 1936.

Since the two-thirds rule was abolished in 1936, there have been 19 presidential elections x 2 parties = 38 conventions, and only 3 have gone more than one ballot, only 7.8% have been contested, only 3 contested conventions in the 80 years.

It is also hard to get a brokered convention because of changes in party rules that have moved the nominating process from delegates  sent from State Conventions who often were party regulars rewarded for their work and who were willing to follow the Bosses or wheel and deal, versus today’s  delegates who are loyal to specific candidates and are reluctant to give up that support.

All together, 66 conventions, or 71  percent, have been first ballot conventions, many of those were re-nominating their party's presidential candidate, although that doesn't always happen. (Buchanan over Pierce 1856; Blaine over Arthur 1884). 

Now conventions are really Confirmation Conventions versus Nominating Conventions.

The 1924 Democratic Convention was the most famous contested convention. Held in the old Madison Square Garden, it lasted for over a week and was a 102 ballot stalemate between New York Governor Al Smith and California Senator, WWI Secretary of the Treasury who financed the war, and Woodrow Wilson's son-in- law, William MacAdoo.  John W. Davis of West Virginia, the former Ambassador to Great Britain was nominated as a compromise on the 103rd ballot.

The 1924 Democratic convention was also the infamous Klan convention, when at least a third of the delegates were avowed members of the KKK from all regions of the country. The resolution to denounce the Klan failed in a famous midnight battle, by one vote. The raucous debate was broadcast across the nation on the new thing called the radio. So Bruce, this is radio's 92 political year. The Democrats finished third that year, behind Progressive candidate Senator Robert M. La Follette Jr. and the re-elected Calvin Coolidge.

The last convention to go to more than one ballot was in the Chicago Stockyard's International Amphitheatre in 1952 when Illinois reform Governor Adlai Stevenson won on the third ballot over V.P. Alben Barkley, Avril Harrington, Estes Kefauver and others. 

But I should also note that the 1952 Republican convention, also held in Chicago, that nominated General Eisenhower, was highly contested by the delegates of Ohio Senator Robert Taft who actually had the lead coming into the convention but who were defeated in the Credentials Committee. That convention featured fist fights on television in the first gavel to gavel TV coverage.

The Credentials Committee is where other candidacies have died, most notably Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 to President Taft who had lost to his challenger in every primary where they faced each other. Also, many states had two conventions and sent two competing delegations to the national convention. One delegate was killed in the "Ball Bat" state convention in Missouri. Roosevelt, who like Trump was wildly flamboyant, and hated by the party regulars, took over the Progressive Party and finished second behind Woodrow Wilson in the General Election because of the fractured party vote.

And of course. other conventions have had tensions not recorded in the final votes. There was 1964, Goldwater vs Rockefeller, fought out in the Platform Committee, and the 1968 Democratic Convention that was contested in the streets of Chicago and in the convention aisles.

And 1976 when Reagan and Ford averted a floor fight with Ford's re-nomination, realizing a spit in the party would probably elect Carter.

These days the voters decide in the primaries, and it would take a minimum of three candidates to stalemate on the first ballot, after which delegates are legally free to switch. Right now the Republicans only have two running strong, but everything can change. Not a single vote has been cast or even printed yet.

Some Famous Walk Outs during Conventions:
In 1860, Democrats met in Charleston, South Carolina, but ended with no nominee. The party split in two over slavery. The Northern Democrats reconvened in Baltimore to nominate Senator Stephen A. Douglas;
In 1872, Liberal Republicans met in Cincinnati and nominated Horace Greeley instead of endorsing President Grant in Philadelphia:
In 1884, Liberal Republicans (Mugwumps) left the Chicago convention and reconvened at the Massachusetts Reform Club in Boston and endorsed Democrat Grover Cleveland;
In 1896, Gold Democrats left the Chicago Convention that nominated silver advocate William Jennings  Bryan, reconvened in Indianapolis to nominate gold supporter Illinois Senator John M. Palmer, who was 80 years old;
In 1912, the Chicago convention re-nominated William Howard Taft. Teddy Roosevelt led a walk out to Symphony Hall and called for a Chicago Progressive Convention in the Coliseum a month later that nominated TR;
In 1948, Strom Thurmond led a walked out of many Southern delegates (Dixiecrats) from the Philadelphia Convention that endorsed civil rights;
In 1972, Mayor Richard J. Daley and other regulars were thrown out of the Miami Beach convention in favor of Jesse Jackson/Alderman William Singer. Needless to say, Mayor Daley was not enthusiastic about the nominee, George McGovern.

top of page

Copyright 2004 R. Craig Sautter. All rights reserved.