We like to try to give you a range of views from elsewhere. Sometimes, we note that the opinion is nearly unanimous. It’s more fun to find opposing views–“the rest of the story.” The common wisdom is that the Democrats were right to get rid of Superdelegates. But as they say, “common sense is the prejudice of the era.” Could the Dems be making a mistake?
FiveThirtyEight had a discussion on this topic. The main change is that Superdelegates may not vote in the first ballot. In 2016, Hillary was short of the total needed, counting just pledged (elected) delegates. Bernie’s people felt that she had not “won” the nomination, and there should have been a battle on the floor (like in the old days). Nate Silver says Superdelegates don’t change the outcome, just streamline things.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): It means that superdelegates can’t override the voters if someone gets 50 percent + 1 of pledged delegates.
It also means they could be hugely influential in the case of a multiballot convention, which is probably the more important case.
And it probably makes a multiballot convention more likely by not allowing superdelegates to be used as tiebreakers. . .
Like so many other institutions, they’re catering to their critics and fighting the last war.
The discussion turned to the GOP. If Republicans had Superdelegates, would Trump have won the nomination?
Like, I’m not even sure how I feel about superdelegates. I just think this is done for maybe the wrong reasons? And that the more interesting lessons were actually in the GOP primary in 2016?. . .
What saved the Republicans from a contested convention of their own in 2016 was the fact that a lot of their primaries, especially toward the end stages, were winner-take-all or winner-take-most. That allowed Donald Trump to build up some real momentum in the last one-third or so of the primary calendar.
Without that, the GOP would probably have still gotten Trump anyway — he was clearly the choice of the plurality of voters — but only after an extremely chaotic convention.
Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer, thinks Superdelegates should perhaps have even more power.
perry: I don’t think the big goal (stopping supers from overturning the plurality of the pledged delegates) is necessarily best served by these particular reforms. That said, on the broader question of whether superdelegates SHOULD be able overturn the plurality of pledged delegates, I think there is a case for superdelegates to have that power.
I’m not completely sure superdelegates should be disempowered, even though I agree with arguments that the will of the people should be respected and am generally for giving voters more power. The last two years (so Trump) have suggested that maybe party elders should play a bigger role, not necessarily in pushing for a different person ideologically, but maybe a president who abides by general norms. (For example, I think Ted Cruz would be as conservative as Trump, but perhaps less erratic and able to condemn white nationalist rallies.)
I’m not sure if, say, Michael Avenatti has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination in 2020, but I bet a lot of Democratic Party elders are not excited at that prospect–and would like to have the power to stop it.
In other words, maybe the elites should have more power?
Here’s an interesting thought: with the new rules, Hillary may have won the nomination in 2008, against Barack Obama.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): OK, let’s try it this way: Would these rules, had they been in place, have altered any past Democratic nominations?
Would Clinton have had a better chance in 2008?
perry: . . .yes, my instinct is that Clinton would have had a better chance to win on a second ballot in this new system. The superdelegates would have no role in the first ballot, but I think their role is enhanced in a second one.
FiveThirtyEight is not alone in questioning the new rules. Bloomberg is not as equivocal.
The case for the supers is stronger than ever in the era of celebrity candidates and foreign interference in elections, regardless of what the populists and good government folks believe. In fact, the supers are part of a solution to all kinds of potential breakdowns in the modern nomination system. Democrats would be foolish to throw them away. . .
To begin with, supers have never gone against the expressed preferences of the voters since they debuted in the 1984 nomination cycle. . .
So why keep them? Supers have several practical functions. Their votes for the winner of the primaries and caucuses extends the delegate lead, adding both legitimacy and certainty to the nominee. That’s something they’ve done in close contests, such as the 2008 cycle. But they’re also a fail-safe if something goes wrong. . .
Supers also would be extremely helpful if there’s ever a Roy Moore problem: The winner of the primaries and caucuses reaches the convention after new information discredits him or her. That’s a problem under Democratic rules because the regular delegates themselves are generally slated by the candidates, and chosen not as independent actors but as proxies for the candidate. They are unlikely to defect, even if faced with overwhelming evidence that the party at large has abandoned the apparent nominee. So having a large chunk of independent delegates available is essentially a solution to a system design defect.
So. . .why did we have Superdelegates in the first place? One of the inventors, Elaine Kamarck, explains.
Yeah, I mean what we’ve known for many years now is that primary electorates are not representative of the whole party. Republican primaries skew right and the Democrat primaries skew left. That’s really dawning on people after 1972, when you had a real increase in the number of primaries. There was a concern that we were going to be nominating unelectable candidates like George McGovern.
They always say candidates have to be extremists in order to win the primary, and as Mitt Romney said in 2012, you shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start over for November, to appeal to normal people. The primaries simply don’t represent the majority of voters.
And that’s the point of Superdelegates, these pros say: Primary voters are nutcases.