The Corner

Pluralities at Conventions: the Record

Party nominees usually come to the convention with a majority of delegates. That could very well happen for the Republicans this year.

What if it doesn’t? A friend noted on Facebook that in five of the last seven cases in which a candidate came to a party convention having earned a plurality of delegates, he didn’t win the nomination. He concludes, “Usually if the front-runner is unable to clinch a majority, it’s a sign of entrenched opposition limiting the potential of the candidacy.”

From a little bit of Googling, he appears to be right. Candidates who came to their conventions with a plurality won the Republican nominations in 1976 and 1948.

But the candidate who started with more delegates than anyone else did not win the 1952 Democratic, 1940 Republican, 1924 Democratic, 1920 Republican, or 1920 Democratic nominations. In those instances the nominations ultimately went to the candidate who came in third, third, seventh, sixth, and third, respectively, on their conventions’ first ballots.

Also worth noting: In only one of the seven cases in which nobody had a majority of the delegates at the start of the convention did the party go on to win in November. The Republicans won in 1920–but they were up against a Democratic party in which no candidate came to the convention with a majority of delegates, either.


Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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