Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are battling it out down to the wire; only a few state Democratic primary contests remain. And because of that, the so-called superdelegates may very well be the deciding factor among the split primary electorate.
So who and what are superdelegates, and how influential will they be?
Superdelegates are everyone from party leaders like Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to experienced elected officials and unelected Democratic party members.
Regular delegates are elected to represent the popular vote from primary elections or caucuses in each state. So, if the people of North Carolina vote 60 percent for Barack Obama and 40 percent for Hillary Clinton, then 60 percent of the delegates will go to Obama and 40 percent will go to Clinton. But superdelegates get to choose whichever candidate they wish, regardless of how their states vote. Most, like Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey Jr., declare their intentions by endorsing a candidate. Still, who superdelegates are and what they do is often unclear.
According to SourceWatch’s Congresspedia, superdelegates:
- Are selected by virtue of their status as current or former elected officeholders and party officials.
- Are ex-officio delegates like union officials and interest group representatives that were not elected.
- Are free to support any candidate for nomination regardless of any endorsements they may have made.
- Are officially known as “unpledged party leader and elected official delegates” (PLEO); “superdelegate” is an informal term for PLEO.
- Play a major role in a “brokered convention” in which delegate votes do not establish a clear party favorite.
Based on the description above, we know that superdelegates are specially regarded members at a political convention, so when do their “special” abilities come into play?
Think of it this way: Superdelegates are like teachers and principals at your school, official intermediaries who help resolve student issues. Delegates are like the student body as a whole. For instance, if a slim majority of students wanted more vegetarian options in the cafeteria but an almost equal amount wanted meat only, how would the issue be resolved? Although the students have more at stake and outnumber teachers and principals, the latter’s opinions and guidance would break the stalemate. Superdelegates are like official tiebreakers.
Currently, Democratic voters have not expressed a clear majority in primaries and caucuses and remain split between Clinton and Obama. Barring a landslide in the remaining state primary contests, superdelegates may play a prominent role at the Democratic Party Convention, held on August 25 in Denver, Colorado. If superdelegates decide or “broker” the presidential nomination, it may appear contrary to the popular primary vote. Hence, voters are wary of the decisions these officials may make.
Most politicians or Democratic party members aren’t opposed to certain elected officials having “super” status; a notable exception is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called for a reduced superdelegate role at the convention.