Do Democrats Have A Rule 40B? Their Version Makes A Bit More Sense

As the country and the Democratic Party prepares for its national convention in July, there's been a renewed interest in the esoteric rules that govern the presidential nomination process. Because the modern primary system is so new and the rules of both parties change on a quadrennial basis, it's important to come back to these rules before every convention to get an idea of what's changed and why. This year, there's a lot of interest in Republican Rule 40B, which shuts a candidate out of the process if he or she has received less than the simple majority of delegates in eight states. It seems like an unprecedented impingement on candidates' eligibility to run, but Democrats have a rule similar to 40B that's been around for a lot longer — it's the 15-percent threshold you've probably already heard about.

The 15-percent threshold rule, or Rule 13B if you want to get technical about it, arose after the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when party leaders saw the Democrats slowly splitting into factions after conflict about the Vietnam War. Like Rule 40B, the 15-percent rule set a limit on the viability of a presidential candidate, but instead of winning a certain number of states by a certain amount, a Democratic candidate has to get 15 percent of the vote to be eligible in every state and congressional district through the entire election process.

The two rules are very similar, in that they set a certain mark that a candidate has to meet in order to receive delegates, but there is one key difference between them which makes the Democratic system a lot fairer. Because the 15-percent threshold is built through every level of the Democratic primary system, it's nearly impossible for a candidate with less than 15 percent of the vote to eventually make it to the convention anyway. Especially in this modern political landscape, where the cost of a campaign can top $1 billion, you're going to drop out if you come out of a few state primaries without even 15 percent of the vote.

But Republicans' Rule 40B doesn't kick in until they get to the convention. A Republican candidate could actually do pretty well without ever meeting the terms of Rule 40B and still get locked out of a competitive convention without any recourse for changing that decision.


The rules of the political conventions can be pretty tedious, but they're unimaginably important. All of this is part of the big machine that makes the U.S. presidential election happen, so it all deserves specific scrutiny. If you're paying rapt attention to the candidates, make sure you pay attention to the process by which the eventual nominees will chosen too.