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In US politics it seems to be commonplace for the losing candidate in an election to publicly concede - i.e., admit defeat - after an appropriate number of votes have been tallied.

I can see that this has an important political purpose - it gives them the opportunity to make one last speech to their supporters and possible to exert some influence on political points of view. They might signal support for unity, for instance. And it is courteous to their opponent & their supporters.

However, does such a concession have any actual tangible effect? Does it actually remove them from the running in an official way? My impression was that its the actual formal vote count which decides the outcome; so if a candidate were to concede prematurely and the vote turned out in their favor, would the concession matter?


I saw this other question which was asking for historical events, but I didn't think it really addressed this. Also it concerned Australia & Portugal, but I'm asking about the US. Has any politician/party ever conceded an election and then won?

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    That the losing party concedes spares the winning party the somewhat akward situation to declare themseles winner. Works only if the winning party knows the concept of emberassment Nov 6 '20 at 14:42
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    It's just a statement of fair play, because being a bad loser and blaming the rules in a mature democracy is childish: most adults would avoid it. Conceding also prevents violence and is a statement of leadership towards followers, to prevent division and violence. Nov 11 '20 at 14:26
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    Not legally. But it does show good sportsmanship. It might affect how the person is seen at an individual level if they don't concede when it is clear they lost. Nov 23 '20 at 22:55
  • As the leader of one of the sides of the election, the losing candidate will still hold significant sway over their supporters. By conceding, they signal to their supporters that the election is over and that the candidate themselves will recognize the winning candidate as the new leader. This eliminates a significant amount of hope of that candidate accepting being "made" the leader through some extraordinary or extra legal means, which some ardent supporters might otherwise feel compelled to attempt. In the worst case, failing to concede could thus lead to political violence. Nov 25 '20 at 18:15
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A presidential concession speech does at least have some influence on the way that transitions are managed. (Or, has in the past).

The following was noted in an answer to When and how does the GSA ascertain the President-Elect?

[the GSA ascertains the President-Elect by] discretion of the Administrator of General Services. Though concession by the runner-up is not required, the timing appears closely related to concession.

Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding, October 5, 2016

Ascertaining the “Apparent Successful Candidates”

For the purposes of the PTA, the “President-elect” and “Vice-President-elect” are defined as “the apparent successful candidates for the office of President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections.” In the immediate aftermath of the contested November 7, 2000, presidential election, neither candidate was provided with the resources that would be available for the President-elect and Vice President-elect. In testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, Administrator David J. Barram testified: “In this unprecedented, incredibly close and intensely contested election, with legal action being pursued by both sides, it is not apparent to me who the winner is. That is why I have not ascertained a President-elect.” In his testimony, the Administrator drew on a 1963 House floor debate concerning the PTA, during which a sponsor of the legislation stated that, “in a close contest, the Administrator simply would not make the decision.” The GSA Deputy Administrator reportedly provided PTA facilities and funds to the Bush-Cheney transition team on December 14, 2000, the day following Vice President Al Gore’s concession speech.

So this seems like a somewhat unofficial practice, but nonetheless at least in past cases the act of conceding the election has affected on the timing of subsequent actions by the GSA.

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Concession speeches are political public relations events. They have no legal force whatsoever.

As noted regarding legal implications in "Are Concession Speeches Binding?" using the 2000 US presidential election as an example:

Concession speeches are courtesies–they are not legally binding. In Florida, when an election margin is less than one-half of 1 percent, a recount is automatic. If Al Gore had conceded, the recount would still have happened. If he went on to win the recount, and Bush didn’t challenge it, he would become president. But if Gore lost the recount, and didn’t recant his concession, that would mean the end of his legal challenge and the end of the election.

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    Not a downvote (but not an upvote either), in the sense that a concession speech implicitly means that the person in question has decided to stop legal challenges to the election, such speeches do have legal consequences. Nov 6 '20 at 12:28
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    I'm fairly sure that making a concession speech doesn't preclude someone engaging in legal challenges later. At least not in any legal sense.
    – Kyralessa
    Nov 6 '20 at 13:39
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    @davidhammen that means that a concession speech may have legal causes, but it doesn't mean that one has legal consequences. Nov 6 '20 at 14:16
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The democratic process is upheld by all participating parties agreeing to the democratic rules. All this works only by convention to begin with.

As such there is no legally binding aspect to this because there is nothing that can actually legally prevent a side from kicking over the table and abandoning the democratic principles altogether which creates a political split and is where democracies can fall apart.

All states are build on some fiction how a society is held together. E.g. a monarchy does work if everyone agrees that rule by divine right is a thing, that legitimizes who gets to occupy the political positions. Once that falls apart that convention does not work anymore.

I might be rambling a bit but conceding a lost election is affirming that oneself and one's political faction commits to the democratic principles. You are quickly working on a level where legal questions become moot because the entirety of the legal basis is implicitly put to question.

In a way putting doubt on an election result is the same as suggesting that the king is just a normal dude from just another family. From thereon out, what was considered a mutual social contract, can be unraveling when a faction uses this to declare that they do not want to participate in the process anymore.

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