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National conventions

Political parties hold national conventions to select presidential and vice presidential nominees. Learn how the national conventions work.

What happens at a national political convention?

To become the presidential nominee, a candidate typically has to win a majority of delegates. This usually happens through the party's state primaries and caucuses. Learn more about state presidential primaries and caucuses and how delegates are selected.

State delegates go to the national convention to vote to confirm their choice of candidates. But if no candidate gets the majority of a party's delegates during the primaries and caucuses, convention delegates choose the nominee. This happens through additional rounds of voting.

At the convention, the presidential nominee officially announces who will run with them for vice president.

Types of delegates at a national convention

There are two main types of delegates.

  1. Pledged or bound delegates must support the candidate they were awarded through the primary or caucus process.
  2. Unpledged delegates or superdelegates can support any presidential candidate they choose.

Contested and brokered conventions

In rare cases, none of the party's candidates may have a majority of delegates going into the convention. The convention is then considered "contested." Delegates will pick their presidential nominee through one or more rounds of voting.

In the first round of voting:

  • Pledged delegates usually have to vote for the candidate they were awarded to at the start of the convention. 
  • Unpledged delegates can vote for any candidate.
  • Superdelegates in the Democratic Party cannot vote in the first round of a contested convention. But they can vote in the first round of a convention in which a candidate already has enough delegates through primaries and caucuses to get the nomination.

In the rare instance that no nominee wins in the first round, the convention is considered "brokered." The pledged delegates may choose any candidate in later rounds of voting. Superdelegates can also vote in these later rounds. 

Balloting continues until one candidate receives the required majority to win the nomination.

LAST UPDATED: March 8, 2024


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