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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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a superdelegate in the context of American politics?
A superdelegate is a type of delegate to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) who is not bound by the results of primaries and caucuses in their state. Unlike pledged delegates, superdelegates—comprising Democratic National Committee members, Democratic governors, members of Congress, and distinguished party leaders—have the freedom to support any candidate for the presidential nomination. This system allows experienced party members to have a say in the nomination process, potentially influencing the outcome.
How many superdelegates are there, and how does their number compare to pledged delegates?
As of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, there were approximately 771 superdelegates, according to the Democratic National Committee. This number is significantly smaller compared to the total number of pledged delegates, which was around 3,979. Superdelegates thus represented roughly 16% of the total delegate count, highlighting their potential influence in a close nomination race.
Can superdelegates vote on the first ballot at the convention?
Following reforms enacted after the 2016 election, superdelegates are no longer allowed to vote on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention unless the outcome is already determined by the pledged delegates' votes. This change was implemented to ensure that the will of the party's electorate is the primary factor in selecting the nominee, as reported by the Democratic National Committee.
What role do superdelegates play in the nomination process?
Superdelegates serve as a balancing force in the Democratic nomination process. They can provide stability and experience, potentially acting as a safeguard against a candidate who may be deemed less electable in a general election. Their role is to offer independent judgment, and they may also help in unifying the party behind a single candidate, especially in a contested convention scenario.
Have superdelegates ever changed the outcome of a Democratic nomination?
While superdelegates have the potential to influence the nomination, there has not been a case where their votes have directly changed the outcome of a Democratic nomination. Typically, the candidate who wins the majority of pledged delegates also garners enough support from superdelegates to secure the nomination. However, their presence can add weight to a leading candidate's claim to the nomination, especially in a closely contested primary season.