Superdelegates

Superdelegates supporting each of the Democratic candidates, as of March 2, 2016 (Bloomberg Politics)

Super Tuesday Update:

The results are in from Super Tuesday: Trump and Clinton dominated their respective races. On the Republican side, Trump continues to lead with 316 delegates to Cruz's 226 and Rubio's 106. Among Democrats, Clinton holds her lead with 1,304 delegates to Sanders' 408. 

 

Super Tuesday clearly demonstrated two voting trends that may have a significant impact on the general election. So far this primary season, voter turnout is at record lows among Democrats and record highs among Republicans. On Tuesday, Democrats cast 5.6 million votes in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia (the states for which we already have numbers). Republicans cast 8.3 million votes in those same states. Trump benefits from the high Republican turnout, while the impact of Democrats' low numbers varies state-to-state.

 

It is less clear how exactly these trends will play out in the general. Are Democrats merely waiting until the nomination to head to the polls? Can the eventual Republican nominee maintain the party's high numbers? One lesson is clear: anyone who opposes a Trump presidency needs to make their voices heard, and soon.

What's happening?

"Super Tuesday," March 1st, is the day 12 states nominate their candidate for the presidential race.

 

The Super Tuesday states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. For Republicans, the 12th state is Alaska. For Democrats, it's Colorado (and one territory, American Samoa!) 

 

The stakes are high for both parties. 661 delegates will be allocated on the Republican side, 865 delegates on the Democrats'.

 

But there is another type of voter at these conventions not bound by this or any primary: superdelegates. 

Why is it important?

A superdelegate (also called an unpledged delegate) votes at the Democratic or Republican National Convention for any candidate he or she chooses, unbound by primary results. 

 

In both parties, superdelegates are usually appointed party leaders or political officials. Sometimes confused with "faithless electors" in the Electoral College, the role of superdelegate only exists in the two presidential nominating conventions. 

 

For the 2016 Democratic National Convention, there will be 713 superdelegates among 4,764 delegates total—just over a sixth of the overall vote count. A Democratic candidate needs 2,383 votes to win the nomination (right now, Clinton dominates the Democratic superdelegate field with around 360 pledges to Sanders' 8.) On the Republican side, RNC delegates (superdelegate equivalents) make up slightly over 6% of the 2,472 delegates total. A Republican candidate needs 1,237 to win.  

 

In contrast to superdelegates, pledged delegates are expected to vote according to the results of their state's primary. However, even pledged delegates are not legally bound to vote for any particular candidate. These delegates are selected in state primaries based on their "pledged" preference, but may theoretically change their votes at the nominating convention. Convention rules ask only that a pledged delegate "in good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.” 

Debate it!

Should superdelegates exist in our primary nominating conventions?

Against: 

Superdelegates hold an antiquated—yet not historic—role with too much influence on our presidential nominations. 

 

In 1980, Congressional leadership sought "more flexibility" and changed nominating rules to give party leaders more influence—and in doing so, decreased the voice of the actual voters. Each superdelegate vote is now equivalent to approximately 10,000 citizens' votes—and completely unaccountable to any opinion but their own. That's not democracy, and should not exist in our primary system.

 

Further, these superdelegates' opinions are not representative of the country's. In fact, Harvard law professor Susan Estrich coined the term "superdelegate" in her analysis of the ways these delegates—which were and are overwhelmingly white and male—tip the scale toward specific statistically related views

 

This is no small problem: superdelegates can be a deciding factor in a nomination, as they were in 2008 and may be again in this coming presidential election. It's time to make sure no election is swayed by the unrepresentative views of so few.

For:

Superdelegates serve an important role in an imperfect system, guiding the nominating process to elect successful candidates in the general election.

 

After the bitter primary race between President Carter and Senator Kennedy in 1980, Democratic party leaders accurately noted that the nominating process was elevating candidates who went on to lose in the general election. The creation of superdelegates was an imperfect but acceptable solution to unite the party voice and allow leaders more of a guiding role in the process. 

 

Jim Hunt, who led the commission that created the role, said at the time that superdelegates would be able, "in cases where the voters' mandate is less than clear, to make a reasoned choice." He was right. Historically, superdelegates have sided with the candidate who leads the regular vote—which makes sense, given the goal of a successful presidential candidate.

 

Superdelegates' influence is only relevant in situations in which there is an essential tie among pledged delegates votes. In these cases, it is appropriate for party leaders' views to apply.

Learn more...

  1. The New York Times' interactive page on Super Tuesday
  2. Bloomberg Politics' delegate tracker
  3. A Harvard professor's history of superdelegates
  4. Vox's explanation of superdelegates' effect on the 2016 race