Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Let's Talk About Superdelegates And Stop With The Clickbait

Today my feed is full of stories about the DNC "awarding superdelegates" to Hillary Clinton. All the headlines suggest that something shady's going on, and all the links go to clickbait websites masquerading as lefty news outlets (USUncut, AddictingInfo, and similar sites). I'm the first to admit that by all appearances the DNC is manipulating the primary race in Hillary Clinton's favor. However, "awarding superdelegates" is not one of those things, because saying the DNC is "awarding" superdelegates to Clinton is a lot like saying that CNN is "awarding" Florida to a nominee on the night of the general election. It merely means that based on the information available, the DNC believes that these superdelegates will go to Clinton. Just as CNN has no power to decide who gets Florida's electoral votes, the DNC has no power (well, no official power, but we'll get to that) to decide who the superdelegates vote for.

As you probably know, delegates in a primary election are a lot like electoral votes in the general election. The main difference is that in all but two states (Nebraska and Maine), a state's electoral votes are all-or-nothing. You either get all of Ohio's electoral votes or none of them. That's not the case with delegates, a fact conveniently ignored by many of those same sites last week so they could run stories about Clinton "winning" Iowa despite a very small margin. "Winning" a state in the primary doesn't actually mean much because the pledged delegates get split. Hillary "won" Iowa, but it only means she got 2 more delegates than  Sanders, which is some infinitesimally small percentage of the 4,763 delegates up for grabs. 

The other difference between primaries and general elections is the inclusion of superdelegates, of which there are a little over 800 this year [Correction: apparently it's 712. I thought 807 for some reason, but didn't confirm (which is why I gave a ballpark figure)], including both Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders himself (so we know Bernie's getting at least one superdelegate). Unlike the pledged delegates, the superdelegates aren't obligated to vote for a specific candidate. They can vote for whichever candidate they want to support. The DNC can't tell them who to vote for, and therefore can only "award" them to Clinton in the sense of announcing how many of them have expressed support for Clinton. 

That being said, about half of the superdelegates are elected members of the DNC, most of the rest are democratic governors and members of Congress, and a handful are "distinguished party leaders" that are hand-picked by the DNC (and presumably includes former Presidents like Bill Clinton). In other words, the superdelegates are mostly party loyalists who will probably vote for the candidate that the DNC wants as nominee. While the inclusion of superdelegates certainly can subvert the will of the voters, that's kind of the point. The idea is that superdelegats are there to provide a check against the possibility that a popular but "unelectable" candidate will win the nomination. Just like with electoral votes, the subversion of the popular will is a feature, not a bug (at least according to the "distinguished leaders" who put the system in place).

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