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How Political Conventions Work

2020 DNC
A sign advertises the 2020 Democratic National Convention at Wisconsin Center, in Milwaukee. BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images

The political convention is a uniquely American tradition, one that is focused on the political parties that have defined Americans' choices in government for nearly 190 years. Yet, political conventions, and the party system they are an integral part of, are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, the founding fathers of American government viewed political parties with distrust or outright hostility. Today, Americans can hardly imagine a government without political parties, and the parties' conventions are enormous, televised media events.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic and Republican conventions are going to be held mostly virtually this year. Instead of the usual convention halls filled with balloons and cheering crowds, both presidential candidates are expected to deliver their acceptance speeches remotely. Other speeches and events will be televised and livestreamed from locations around the U.S.

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Could this be a necessary but temporary change to the tried-and-true format, or the start of a re-invention for the political convention, which critics complain has gotten stale and boring? Time will tell. But first, let's figure out what these conventions are supposed to accomplish.

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