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What is a Superdelegate?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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After primary elections take place for people choosing to run for the US Presidency, the Republican and Democratic parties each hold a National convention. At this convention the person who will represent the party and run in the Presidential election is nominated. Part of this nomination is determined by delegates, who represent the number of votes won at primaries or caucuses through the primary period. Each delegate is a representation of the popular vote for each district. It is possible to achieve more individual votes and still enter the primary with fewer delegates. A superdelegate is something quite different and is an elected official in the Democratic Party who gets to cast an individual vote for his/her candidate of choice not based on the votes of citizens.

Up until the 1970s, party officials chose their presidential candidate. Primaries and caucuses became the principal method for giving people choice in who they wanted to run, not leaving the decision solely up to the party. But both Republicans and Democrats still wanted to have a say in the final decision, resulting in the creation of the superdelegate or unpledged delegate role. Superdelegates are chosen differently per party.

The Democrats have at present, 796 superdelegate members. These are made up of all Democratic members of Congress, Democratic governors, members of the Democratic Committee and other Democratic elected officials. In all there are a total of 4049 superdelegates and delegates, and winning the Democratic nomination means getting 2025 delegate votes. These numbers are subject to change and have changed from convention to convention based on a variety of factors. Technically, a Democrat can win the nomination without any superdelegate support, but if a race is close, these votes can be extremely important.

The Republican Party has about 400 superdelegate members. They’re often simply called unpledged delegates because the term superdelegate arises from the Democratic Party. They have much less sway, unless the race is extremely close, in the final nomination for their presidential candidate.

Many people feel that the appointment of superdelegate candidates, and/or their sheer existence is not in keeping with the democratic ideals of election. Superdelegates can controvert the will of the people in a close election, and they do not have to make their choice based on popular vote. Other factors like personal relationships, political alignments, or simply like or dislike of a person may inform the choice of a superdelegate. People often criticize this process of nomination because it does not fully represent the will of the people.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon12472 — On May 07, 2008

I too believe the election should be decided by the popular vote of the people. The one the most people vote for should be elected. Otherwise why should we vote? Evidently the people don't decide who the President will be.

By anon11834 — On Apr 23, 2008

Why can't we do away with the electoral college and all this superdelegate stuff and just vote the general population? seems to me, this gives the 2 parties a chance to control how the public votes. it certainly discourages the rise of a 3rd party. sharon/calif

By osmosis — On Apr 17, 2008

The idea of superdelegates is ludicrous. What possible reason could the Democratic party have for not wanting to go with the will of the people? Although the Republicans are supposed to be the party of the rich and elite, the Democrats are looking more and more like they are more concerned about the elite and much much less about the ordinary people. After all, they're not concerned with the vote of the ordinary people, but just of the superdelegates, who really have no accountability.

By anon10045 — On Mar 18, 2008

Actually, superdelegates can also be used in the case of voter fraud. For example, if a high percentage of delegates are for a candidate that only got a small percentage of the popular vote then this would be an indicator that voter fraud has occurred.

Today where people are too lazy to spend a few extra hours per precinct to hand count votes and opt instead to trust computers that can be hacked there is a huge potential for voter fraud. I believe this year is one of the worst years on record for voter fraud. We are seeing huge discrepancies between the number of delegates for a particular republican candidate and the percentage of the popular vote. For example, in Missouri, we just held a state wide caucus where Ron Paul got over 70 percent of the delegates but only got 5 percent of the votes. I am convinced that this must be voter fraud. Usually the method for electing superdelegates is by a hand count in an auditorium and is much less susceptible to voter fraud. Where I am from, we actually call for people to stand up, one teller from each candidate hand counts those standing and this makes it almost impossible to rig unless people signing people in are letting people in that are not from that county.

Anyway I will leave you with this quote from Joseph Stalin,

"It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."



By anon9488 — On Mar 07, 2008

I'm not sure, but I think the delegate system was developed as a means to keep the popular vote of one state from usurping the power of another. Our whole system of government seems based on this assumption. For instance, one candidate wins a state with 100 delegates by a huge margin. Another candidate wins 100 delegates in a similar sized state by a slim margin. Bottom line, even as one candidate may have a million more popular votes, each has 100 delegates, and are even. That's all that counts. Total vote is moot, because it can only sort of 'stack the deck' so to speak, to falsely show one candidate to be more popular elsewhere than he or she really is. We see in sports, football, where one team may run up 500 total yards, more pass completions, etc, to be more exciting, etc, while the other team 250 yards, less passing, less other stats, but scores more points. Thus a victory. It would be unfair to judge victory by what happens between the lines, or how many ovations one received during the game. Only the points are what counts. Same with a team that wins a game by 50 points and another team wins by 3 points. Each has one victory, no more no less. Total points scored otherwise means nothing to each other. When they play off, all that is considered is that they each have one victory. To use majority popular vote, majority effort, majority stats to judge victory is a different game, and right now is not the way we do it. And when you think about it, the way it is now, and as it is in many sports contests, it is the fairest way for all candidates to have the best chances of winning. Score the most points, period.

By anon9379 — On Mar 05, 2008

I'm with anon8341.

Please explain why we have delegates/supers? Scenario: Mr A. is a registered voter, and votes in his hometown on election day. Mr A. is also a delegate or superdelegate. did he or does he vote again at the convention, thus having voted basically 2 or 3 times? Why is his vote at a convention necessary when the nominee has already been named at the time of the convention?

By anon9341 — On Mar 04, 2008

In this computer age why do we need delegates and superdelegates? Why can't we just use the majority vote? This is just another way for the candidate to be obligated to someone.

By anon8350 — On Feb 11, 2008

Why are there more Democratic Superdelegates then Republican Superdelegates?


By malena — On Feb 09, 2008

i just heard that superdelegates can change their mind. but, once they've told a candidate, and especially if it's been published, that they will award their delegate to that candidate they will likely hold to that. still, these elected and party officials who are the superdelegates probably want to choose whoever is most likely going to win in the general election and who the people want so they might change their mind if they spoke too soon!

By rjohnson — On Feb 07, 2008

Sparkle, There is no question of whether superdelegates (called unpledged delegates in the Republican party) are _needed_; they are always awarded. It's not akin to an extra vote if there's a tie or something. They are just a different type of delegate. There are two types of delegates: pledged, which are based on the popular vote and unpledged (called superdelegates in the Democrat party) which are votes cast by leaders within the party. Since superdelegates/unpledged delegates are usually (but not always) awarded later in the process they can be the deciding delegates in a race that was pretty neck and neck to that point. But, they are awarded no matter what....there isn't some thing or situation that triggers whether they are awarded.

By sparkle — On Feb 06, 2008

so how is it decided if a superdelegate vote is needed?

By rjohnson — On Feb 05, 2008

In the 2008 presidential primary, 1,191 delegates will be needed for a candidate to secure the Republican nomination. There are a total of 2,380 Republican delegates.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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