Superdelegate Pros and Cons
During the 1960s, the primary system expanded dramatically, giving local voters much more say in who was nominated for president. But after blowout losses in the general elections of 1972 and 1980, Democratic Party leaders felt they should take back some control as to who won the nomination. The DNC decided to add superdelegates to the nomination process, who were not beholden to voting for whoever won the primary vote but could vote for whoever they thought had the best shot of winning. The Republican Party does have superdelegates as well, but they must vote for the candidate who won the primary in their state, so they are less controversial. Superdelegates in the Republican Party make up 7 percent of its delegates, versus 16 percent of the Democratic Party's delegates [sources: PBS, Heersink].
Superdelegates in the Democratic Party had an almost immediate effect after their creation in 1982. At the 1984 convention – thanks to superdelegate votes – Vice President Walter Mondale won the nomination over rival Sen. Gary Hart, who had won more states than Mondale (although Mondale won more of the popular vote). In the end though, Mondale lost the general election in a landslide to Ronald Reagan, winning just one state and D.C. [source: Pruitt].
So, it may seem that having superdelegates doesn't make much of a difference to a party's chances of winning the general election. But perhaps it does. "You have superdelegates because ... You don't want bleed-over from the Green Party, the independents and others in deciding who your nominee will be," explained Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco and longtime Democrat in 2008, to CNN. Brown cited the ability of undeclared or non-Democrat voters in some states to cast a vote in Democratic primaries or caucuses. The logic follows that if enough of these nonaffiliated voters cast ballots, voters outside the Democratic Party could decide the nominee.
Adding superdelegates to the convention provides a countermeasure against such an event. Since superdelegates are all registered Democrats (and usually elected officials), it's reasonable to assume they wouldn't vote contrary to Democratic Party lines.
But to some, the power superdelegates wield to sway a nomination flies in the face of a democratic process. Why don't the voters get to decide who gets the nomination without interference from party bigwigs? Other observers are concerned over the rules covering the courting of superdelegates. There is little if any protocol that says delegates can't be given outright gifts or even money from a candidate or promised favors if elected [source: NPR].
But as to whether superdelegates can really change an election outcome remains to be seen, particularly with the new DNC rules, which theoretically would give them less power than they had before.
Last editorial update on Mar 6, 2020 03:19:18 pm.
More Great Links
- 270 to Win. "Democratic Superdelegate Rule Changes for 2020." https://www.270towin.com/content/superdelegate-rule-changes-for-the-2020-democratic-nomination (March 5, 2020)
- Block, Melissa. "Little chance of 'smoke-filled room' in Denver." NPR. Feb. 12, 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18921325 (March 5, 2020)
- Conway, Michael. "Bernie Sanders' crusade against superdelegates could torpedo his 2020 chances." NBC News. March 3, 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/bernie-sanders-crusade-against-superdelegates-could-torpedo-his-2020-chances-ncna1147901 (March 5, 2020)
- Devine, Tad. "Superdelegates, back off." New York Times. Feb. 10, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/opinion/10devine.html (March 5, 2020)
- Devine, Tad. "Superdelegates, back off." New York Times. Feb. 10, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/opinion/10devine.html (March 5, 2020) Democratic National Committee. "Delegate Selection Rules." Aug. 25, 2018. https://democrats.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2020-Delegate-Selection-Rules-12.17.18-FINAL.pdf (March 5, 2020)
- Drum, Kevin. "Superdelegates." Washington Monthly. Feb. 10, 2008. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2008_02/013093.php (March 5, 2020)
- Fang, Lee. "How Lobbyists and Insiders Could Override Voters to Choose the Democratic Presidential Nominee." The Intercept. June 30, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/06/30/superdelegates-2020-democratic-nominee/ (March 5, 2020)
- Greve, Joan. "What are superdelegates? (And, yes, Republicans have them, too)." PBS. July 12, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/weta/washingtonweek/blog-post/what-are-superdelegates-and-yes-republicans-have-them-too (March 5, 2020)
- Kuttner, Robert. "A Multi-Ballot Convention: The Dems' Nightmare." The American Prospect. Dec. 9, 2019. https://prospect.org/blogs/tap/multi-ballot-convention-democrats-nightmare/ (March 5, 2020)
- Pruitt, Sarah. "What are Delegates and Superdelegates?" History. Dec. 20, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/what-is-a-delegate-and-superdelegate (March 5, 2020)
- Simon, Roger. "Clinton targets pledged delegates." Politico. Feb. 19, 2008. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0208/8583.html (March 5, 2020)
- Younge, Gary. "It's up to the superdelegates to prove Democrats believe in democracy." The Guardian. Feb. 18, 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/feb/18/hillaryclinton.barackobama (March 5, 2020)
- Wheaton, Sarah. "Obama takes 3 more superdelegates." The New York Times. May 23, 2008. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/05/23/obama-takes-3-more-superdelegates/ (March 5, 2020)
- "Clinton campaign says superdelegates will pick nominee." Miami Herald. Feb. 13, 2008. http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2008/02/clinton-campaig.html (March 5, 2020)
- "Democratic rules." All Politics. 1997. http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/conventions/chicago/facts/rules/index.shtml (March 5, 2020)
- "Do superdelegates hold super powers?" NPR. Feb. 6, 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18745567 (March 5, 2020)
- "Superdelegates loom over Democratic race." CNN. Feb. 19, 2008. http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/02/19/superdelegates/index.html (March 5, 2020)
- Yen, Hope. "AP FACT CHECK: Sanders' shift on delegates needed to win." Associated Press. March 1, 2020. https://apnews.com/a5f8f2335cf1b617dbb6626845b1c4a8 (March 5, 2020)