ND Expert: Brokered convention 'unlikely' and 'unhappy' for GOP

Author: Susan Guibert

Geoffrey Layman

Whenever two or more candidates win significant numbers of delegates, a brokered convention is always a possibility – and in the best interest of the two trailing candidates in this presidential election, according to a University of Notre Dame political scientist.

But a brokered convention in 2012 is both “unlikely and unhappy” for the Republican Party, says Geoffrey Layman, an associate professor of political science who specializes in American politics, political parties, public opinion and voting behavior.

“The current numbers just don’t bear out the claim that a brokered convention is a strong possibility,” Layman says. “Every estimate of how many delegates each candidate has won so far shows Romney with a fairly comfortable majority – generally around 55 percent of all of the delegates allocated. Second, more states have winner-take-all primaries moving forward than have had them so far, so if Romney continues to win a majority of the states, he will begin to win a larger percentage of the delegates from those states than he has to this point.”

Political scientists have found that voters in states with later primaries tend to give more weight to electability than do voters in early primary states. The former Massachusetts governor holds a substantial delegate lead over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and in general, has a better showing in head-to-head polls with President Barack Obama, which should give him an advantage moving forward.

“Since a brokered convention is not in the best interest of the Republican Party, as we move closer to the convention, Republican leaders are likely to throw their weight even more heavily behind the leading candidate. In fact, even if Romney has not won a majority of delegates by the end of the primaries and caucuses in June, it is very likely that party leaders will be able to bring enough delegates his way by the Republican convention to give him a majority of votes on the first ballots, which is something that happened in 1976 for the GOP and in 1984 for the Democrats,” Layman says.

Republican leaders also recognize the potential damage a brokered convention could do to their party. The primary and caucus process that has been used to nominate presidential candidates for the past 40 years was meant to make nominations more democratic by taking them out of the hands of national convention delegates and putting them into the hands of a larger number of ordinary voters.

“Defying Americans’ expectations about how the nomination process should work and denying its nominee a feel-good coronation could do grave damage to the GOP’s chances in the general election. And that is precisely why the party and its leaders will do everything in their power to keep it from happening.”

Contact: Geoffrey Layman, department of political science, 574-631-0379, glayman@nd.edu; Susan Guibert, Office of Public Relations, sguibert@nd.edu