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US election word of the week: convention

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s word is convention.

As the Macmillan Dictionary definition shows, a convention is simply a meeting attended by people who belong to a profession or organization in order to discuss things. In the context of US politics, however, the term generally signifies the presidential nominating conventions held every four years at which each party selects its candidate for the presidency. Although other parties hold conventions, the main ones are those held by the Democratic and Republican parties in the summer before the November election in different cities around the US. This year they are being held in Philadelphia (Democrats) and Cleveland (Republicans).



Although in theory the purpose of the conventions is to choose a presidential candidate, in practice by the time the conventions are held there is just one person in each party with sufficient support and whose nomination is therefore a foregone conclusion. The last time a convention was held without a generally agreed candidate was in 1976 when California governor Ronald Reagan almost won the Republican nomination from the incumbent, President Gerald Ford. So the purpose of the conventions is to present their candidate to the world at large, enthuse the party activists and give the nominee a boost to propel them into the presidential race. The conventions are also the stage where rising stars can make their mark: it was at the 2004 Democratic convention that a relatively unknown Chicago senator called Barack Obama gave the keynote speech which brought him to the attention of the wider public.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

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