We’ve talked about “superdelegates” a bit on this site. Clearly, most people don’t understand the system, so we thought we’d start a discussion. The topic comes up during every primary season and many voters express frustration over the fear that “superdelegates” can steer the Democratic nomination out of the hands of voters.

In his book, “Strategic Decision-Making in Presidential Elections,” author Kenny J. Whitby says:

The reforms of the 1970s sought to involve the Democratic Party’s rank-and-file voters in the presidential nomination process. By all accounts, the reforms achieved their objective. However, the plebisciteary vision of democracy in presidential elections, which is rooted in the Progressive Movement of the late 1800s, has eroded party control of nomination outcomes. In response, defenders of party reassertion argued that input from party professionals is essential for choosing electable candidates, for creating meaningful accountability, and for governance. Complaints from party notables about the lack of seasoned party politicians at national conventions led to calls to give them a greater voice in the selection process. Under pressure from party insiders, the DNC responded by creating a new category of delegates to the national convention, dubbed “superdelegates.”

I think the description above misses some information, so from one who was there, let me explain a little more. In 1968, there was an uprising of liberals against President Johnson (LBJ), because of the Vietnam War. So they turned to upstart Sen. Eugene McCarthy, and later, also to Sen. Robert Kennedy. LBJ could see that the party was being torn apart by the war, so he declined to run for re-election. He endorsed Vice President, who won the nomination, heavily backed by the party establishment.

Four years later, liberal Sen. George McGovern won the nomination—and lost the general election in one of the greatest landslides in history, taking just one state. The party decided that radicals are more likely to vote in a primary, so if the party was to win again, it would have to find a way to counter “the base.” The idea is that party stalwarts would be more interested in winning than pushing an unpopular agenda, so the idea of “superdelegates” was born.

And, this year, there are complaints that the superdelegates are pushing Hillary over Bernie, as in this Washington Times article:

There’s something deeply undemocratic about the Democratic Party’s heavy reliance on superdelegates in selecting its presidential nominee, as far as those backing Sen. Bernie Sanders are concerned. . .

What steams Sanders supporters is that the Democratic Party superdelegates — party insiders who receive a vote at the party convention and are not bound to back any candidate, like the elected “pledged” delegates — are lining up overwhelmingly behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She holds a not-insurmountable lead over the Vermont senator after Super Saturday by 663 to 459 delegates, but when it comes to superdelegates, it’s not even close. Mrs. Clinton has the backing of nearly every superdelegate with 458, while Mr. Sanders has just 22, according to Associated Press estimates.

The candidates need 2,383 delegate votes to win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

In other words, there’s a scenario in which Mrs. Clinton could lose the popular delegate vote but win the nomination by amassing enough superdelegates.

The same article notes that the GOP also has what it calls “unbound” voters, but not enough to make a real difference.

For all the criticism this year of the GOP establishment, Republicans are far more egalitarian when it comes to doling out convention votes. Each state, as well as the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories, has three GOP “unbound” voters — the Republican National Committee state chairman and chairwoman, and the state party chair — for a total of 168.

Recent changes to the RNC rules require the free-agent delegates to back the candidate nominated by their state. Democrats, meanwhile, have 712 superdelegates who can essentially vote for whomever they choose.

Currently, Hillary has more than a thousand delegates (almost half of the 2,383 needed), while Bernie has less than 500. But in elected delegates, Hillary is only ahead by about 200.

Is the game over? Not according to FiveThirtyEight:

If you’re a Sanders supporter, you might think this seems profoundly unfair. And you’d be right: It’s profoundly unfair. . .

Here’s the consolation, however. Unlike elected delegates, superdelegates are unbound to any candidate even on the first ballot. They can switch whenever they like, and some of them probably will switch to Sanders if he extends his winning streak into more diverse states and eventually appears to have more of a mandate than Clinton among Democratic voters.

Clinton knows this all too well; it’s exactly what happened to her in 2008 during her loss to Barack Obama. According to the website Democratic Convention Watch, Clinton began with a substantial advantage in superdelegates, leading Obama 154 to 50 when New Hampshire voted on Jan. 8, 2008. Obama narrowed his deficit in February and March, however, and overtook Clinton in superdelegates in mid-May. By the time Clinton ended her campaign on June 7, 2008, Obama had nearly a 2-to-1 superdelegate advantage over her.

If you want to see a nice, updated chart of elected, super, and total delegates, it’s available from Democratic Convention Watch.

OK—so although this year looks like a blowout for Hillary and The Donald, it ain’t necessarily so.


  1. I think there is also a chance that some of the superdelegates might change over to Bernie if Bernie starts to pick up most of the popular vote. This would mainly effect those in states that Bernie has won in this scenario. Not that I would like them more if they do, do that.

  2. ONE THING you forget folks—–you say Super delegates MAY switch—-NEVER forget, those people are Top Democratic Congress people, Governors, DNC officials—–they want the DEMOCRAT to win, not the INdependent running on our Ticket…….Plus they Know Bernie is not as electable, nor as ready to hit the ground running with Pres. Obama’s legacy…….I think it would be few and far between for any of these current Super Pledged delegates to turn around their vote, I do not care HOW many popular votes Bernie might get.

  3. The number of delegates, super or otherwise, won’t amount to a hill of beans if we, as Democrats, do not get out and VOTE!
    Our apathy in 2010 and 2014 allowed the cons to take over Congress. Stop the arguing over who’s better, Hillary or Bernie, and get to the polls in November and VOTE FOR THE DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE.

  4. So the party that claims to be all about the voice of the people, aka Democratic, decided they didn’t like what the people had to say afterall. So they said “screw the people! We need to maintain power and control at all costs!” So they formed “super delegates” whose sole purpose is to thwart the will of the people and repeatedly allow the establishment to hold onto the power.

    Why anyone would want to be a member of this party is beyond me.

  5. Interesting point, thanks, Goethe, cause, it’s really difficult to understand well, the power of the “super delegate”, plus the “super pack”, here, out of US. The “anti-system” candidates are in the race to win. Sander vs Trump. When, I see your opinion study : 85% are upset against the federal policy…etc. It’s for me incredible, cause, we don’t see the impopularitry of Obama, in france.

    Just this fact, really funny, here now in France our RiIght wing party starts to take Trump in example, with this theme : “he is speaking thruth, directly…etc.”

    I don’t see the last debate DEM in Miami.

    Open question : some can you resume me in 2 short lines, the international position of Sander about ISIS and other (muslim world, crisis eco and migrant in Europe) and eventually furture military US implication ?

    • Willi:
      You can get it all here:

      Note that there are 23 points, and “War and Peace” is number 20–just behind “Real Family Values.”

      It’s safe to say that Bernie thinks we should fix our own house before blowing up homes of others.

  6. Benrie just needs to keep winning DEM and swing states, that is where the General Eleciton is won, and what super delegates are SUPPOSEd to be looking at.

  7. Everyone is addressing Sanders’ problem with superdelegates. But, everyone is looking the other way when someone talks about his supporters harassing the superdelegates. These Sanders’ supporters have compiled a list they call “Hit List.” They have the superdelegates phoene number, the email address and the home address. Some of the super-delegates are receiving 10-20 calls a day. The emails they receive are full of threats and insults. The messages always targets the super-delegates with insults and accusations they tell the super-delegates that they must switch their support from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders. At times, they threaten the superdelagates with possible violence. There is a group of Sanders’ supporters who is about to become a militia. I think Sanders knows about this and does nothing because its convenient to him. It is a shame that he forgot what his family went though in the famous camps. It all started when the supporters would go to other candidate and interrupt their rally. Sanders knew about this and did nothing to stop it because he benefits from that kind of behavior. Well. That is how Bernie Sanders’a supporters think to gain superdelegates. Next, it is going to be the t-shits black or red. Red is becoming very popular. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Just plug in part of Sanders’ supporters “hit list,” and you will get the testimony from some of those who been target.

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