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Of Trump, Clinton, speeches and delegates: A guide to the US political party conventions

New York: Once every four years, the United States is the scene of two major acts of political theater: the Republican and Democratic party conventions.

In 2016, they take place in a tense climate — marked by a wave of nationwide protests over policing and race relations — and following a particularly bruising primary election cycle.

The Republican convention will be held 18 to 21 July in Cleveland, while the Democrats will gather 25 to 28 July in Philadelphia.

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (left) and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Reuters

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (left) and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Reuters

What's the purpose of these meetings? What happens? What role do they have in setting up the 8 November election showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Here are the basics:


The party delegates vote state-by-state to officially nominate their candidate for the 8 November election.

The process takes hours and is punctuated with speeches. Delegates vote according to the results of their state's primary election, the last of which took place in June.

On the Republican side, though, anti-Trump forces are mounting a long-shot effort to block him from securing the nomination – by changing party rules to unbind delegates and allow them to vote their "conscience."

The Democratic convention also has more than 700 "superdelegates," party heavyweights and elected officials who have the right to vote as they choose.

By winning a majority of delegates in the primaries, Trump and Clinton ensured they will each be their party's candidate for the White House.

The convention delegates also endorse the candidate for vice president, selected by the presidential hopeful and announced a few days before the start of the convention.

Ratifying the platform

The party's platform, a declaration of principles and policies, will be ratified at each respective convention. The hard work of putting together the programme is all done beforehand, and there are generally few surprises.

Although the Democratic platform is essentially finalised, details of the Republican platform were continuing to trickle out with just days to go before the convention kicks off.


The political carnival features plenty of balloons and confetti, eye-catching outfits and quirky merchandise in support of each candidate. Since the 1980s, the conventions have been predictably choreographed and made for television. This time, they are sure to be documented live on social media.


Speakers usually represent a mix of party veterans as well as up and comers. To win over skeptical delegates, Trump has this time tapped wife Melania, daughters Ivanka and Tiffany and son Donald Trump Jr.

The most coveted speaking spot is the keynote address, which the parties normally award to rising stars.

Barack Obama's keynote address at the Democratic convention in 2004 rocketed him into the American public consciousness, leading him to the White House just four years later.

The newly-minted presidential nominee is normally the final convention speaker, but Trump has declared that the traditional format is "boring" and may mix things up.


This year's Republican convention is likely to break from the script in more ways than one, with the inflammatory Trump failing to win the full support of the party leadership – and thousands of protesters expected to descend on Cleveland.

Trump's divisiveness has driven away Republican heavyweights like the two former Presidents Bush, and former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain.

But if there's anything Trump knows, it's reality TV, after his years as star of The Apprentice.

The Democratic convention should follow a more predictable theme, especially after Bernie Sanders endorsed his primary opponent Clinton earlier this week.


The conventions are a chance for the parties to put on a show of unity after a heated primary cycle, and to create enthusiasm for two candidates who both rate poorly in terms of likeability.

The events are "a time for the party to market themselves to the American public, to try to gin up support for the party, for the nominee and to try let the country know what they stand for — not just at the presidential level, but at the very important senatorial level this year, at the house, state and local levels," said Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College in New York.

Candidates typically record a "bounce" in polls following the convention.

Other happenings

Thousands of protesters are expected in Cleveland, including groups representing causes as varied as denuclearisation and "black power." Anti- and pro-Trump camps are likely to face off. Complicating the work of police, some protesters have indicated they would be carrying firearms openly, as allowed by Ohio law.

In Philadelphia, Sanders supporters planned to protest in force.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2016 22:02 PM

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