It wasn't always like this. Take the 1860 conventions, for example. With the young nation being torn apart by the issue of slavery and a civil war looming large, the Republicans required three ballots to nominate Abraham Lincoln, while the Democrats were having so much fun, they held two conventions.
1860 Republican Convention - Chicago, Illinois
Knowing they had to carry all the non-slave states to win the presidency away from the Democrats (James Buchanan), the Republicans assembled their national convention in Chicago's "Wigwam" on May 16, 1880. A wooden building, constructed in only six weeks, the Wigwam hosted convention delegates in chairs borrowed from area homes.
The delegates considered three top candidates: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Abraham Lincoln.
Republican Party leadership of 1860 liked Lincoln's politically pristine background and "rail-splitter from a log cabin" image. They also saw Abe as the only candidate who could deliver votes from the "Old Northwest," which then included the state of Illinois.
On the second evening of the convention, delegates were treated to a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Chicago's McVicker's Theater. In 1865, Lincoln would be assassinated while watching the same play in Ford's Theater.
The delegates adopted a party platform considered more moderate, sort of "kinder and gentler," than their 1856 effort. Slavery and polygamy were no longer referred to as "twin relics of barbarism," the John Brown raid on Harper's Ferry was criticized, and economic issues were emphasized.
Nominations were offered on the third day of the convention, May 18, 1860. After three ballots, none of the candidates had received the 233 votes needed for nomination. Lincoln came close -- 231 1/2 votes, and at that point, the Ohio delegates changed their four votes from Ohio favorite son, Salmon P. Chase to Lincoln, making Honest Abe the Republican presidential nominee.
1860 Democratic Convention Number 1 - Charleston, South Carolina
It sounded like a good idea to Democratic leaders of 1860 who decided to hold the party's convention in a Southern state. They felt this symbolic act of "healing" would not only help win the region in the election, but solidify the Union, as well. They were wrong, twice.
Shortly after the convention began on April 23, the Southern Democratic delegations began to press their long-rumored plan to walk out unless a plank calling for passage of a federal slave code for the territories was included in the party platform. Such a code, they hoped, would secure the practice of slavery not only in the North, but in the largely unsettled areas of the expanding nation.
Southern delegates were already opposed to the party's leading candidate, Stephen A. Douglas, over his Freeport Doctrine -- a concept Douglas put forth during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 that a territory's failure to pass laws enforcing slavery would, by default, outlaw slavery in that territory.
Then, there were the "fire-eaters," a group of Southern Democrats who actually wanted the Republican candidate to win the election, thus hastening the secession of the slave states.
As you might imagine, Northern Democrats in Charleston felt a bit insecure -- politically, if not physically.
When Douglas' anti-slavery plank was finally voted into the platform over a previous vote in favor of a pro-slavery plank, 50 Southern delegates made good their promise and dramatically walked out of the convention.
Loss of those 50 left the convention without enough delegates to give Douglas the nomination, although a staggering 57 ballots had been taken.
Left with few alternatives, the remaining Northern Democrats voted to adjourn and try again six weeks later -- this time in the much more friendly confines of Baltimore, Maryland.