What is a brokered convention in American politics? Why might it become relevant this year and what impact can it have? These question will be answered in the following, when this potentially historical and decisive event is scrutinized.

First of all, what are conventions in American politics? When the primary process is concluded and every state have held a caucus or primary election, the parties hold a convention to pick and announce their nominee for president. The Democrats host the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 25-28, 2016 (the picture above is from their 2008 convention), while the Republicans have the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18-21. At these conventions, the delegates from each state will attend and cast their vote according to how the voters in their state voted. (Except for the Democrats’ Super Delegates, who are high ranking party members that are less bound by their states’ voters.) A candidate will need just over half of the delegates to become the nominee, which are 2,383 (out of 4,765) delegates for the Democratic candidates and 1,237 (out of 2,472) delegates for the Republican candidates. Usually, a candidate will have won over half of the delegates before the convention and will already be the party’s unofficial nominee when it begins.


However, in rare cases no candidate has gathered enough (more than half) delegates during the primaries. When this happens, the convention becomes a contested or open convention. But if no candidate has enough delegates after the first ballot is cast at the convention, a second (and even third) vote or ballot is cast and in these cases it is called a brokered convention. In other words, a brokered convention is when no candidate went into the convention with over half the delegates’ support and after the first vote at the convention there is still no candidate with enough delegates. So, how does it get settled who becomes the party’s nominee at a brokered convention? After the first vote at the convention has been cast, the states’ delegates become unbound (the rules differ from state to state, some delegates become unbound after the first ballot others after the second etc.) When the delegates become unbound it means they are free to vote for any whomever they want and are not “bound” by the voters in their state. For instance, those delegates who were bound to vote for candidates that quit the race can now vote on one of the front-runners who are still in the race. Actually, new candidates can even enter the race and get the unbound delegates’ votes. Thus, a brokered convention is chaotic and unpredictable, but as mentioned, also rare, since the last brokered (not contested or open) convention was in 1952.


The question then is, why is it relevant now? The answer is simple, for the first time in 64 years, the United States can experience a brokered convention. The reason for this is that in the Republican race, it seems unlikely that the current front runner, Donald Trump, will reach the 1,237 delegates before the convention and with the republican establishment being against him, a brokered convention could seem possible. But what effect would it have? At this point it would be very difficult to predict the outcome of such a convention, except that chaos will occur. The two current front runners, Trump and Ted Cruz, are not favored by the party and the last candidate still in the race, John Kasich, is far behind and not popular among the voters. Rumors even speak of current Speaker of the House and the 2012 VP nominee, Paul Ryan, and the 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, entering the race (although the latter were among those not running this year.) However, even though a Donald Trump as the Republican nominee could damage the party, not listening to the voters and picking someone with low support among voters or even someone who did not participate in the primaries, might damage the party even more. In any case, if a brokered convention happens, all bets are off and it would be the most important convention in the modern history of the Republican Party.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia)