Superdelegate Oligarchy

By DJ Crosby Over the course of the 2016 Presidential Elections, the word “superdelegate” has been engraved into our minds. Various news outlets, magazines, and online news sources have introduced superdelegates to us, but they have yet to express the importance or even define what a superdelegate is. North Park Political Science professor, Dr. Jon Peterson was interviewed in hopes of clearing up this super confusion.

The Republican nomination and the Democratic nomination processes vary. The Democratic nomination has more of a focus on the superdelegate key than the Republican nomination. CBS News says that the Democratic nomination is effected by the “712 wild cards with an outsized amount of power.” These wild cards are also known as democratic superdelegates. According to CBS, a superdelegate “falls into one of three categories: a major elected official, including senators and members of the House of Representatives; a notable member of the party, such as a current or former president or vice president; and some members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).”

These are people in the political system who hold a large, swaying opinion in regards to the democratic nomination, in hopes of becoming President of the United States. CBS News indicates that some of the current Democratic superdelegates include President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

When asked what the difference is between the Republican and Democratic superdelegates, Dr. Jon Peterson said, “The Republican Party does not have superdelegates, per se. They have delegates who are seated automatically (that is, they are not elected), but are limited to three per state. Typically, these are high-ranking party officials, like the state’s party chair and a couple of party committee members. Unlike Democratic superdelegates, these Republican delegates must vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state.”


The Republican nomination does not depend on the superdelegates because they do not have them. The superdelegates were created by the Democratic National Convention before the 1984 presidential election “in an effort to give party leaders more control over whom their party nominated for president.” Standing at a whopping 15 percent, the superdelegates of the Democratic party are more than the regular delegates. Peterson states that “just like 'regular' delegates, they get to vote for who should represent the Democratic Party in the presidential election. Unlike 'regular' delegates who are committed to a certain candidate, superdelegates are free to vote for anyone they like.”

In the last few weeks of the Presidential election, many Democratic voters have become concerned with the power the superdelegates have. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders has won the majority of primary elections but still trails Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in delegate count. Currently, Sanders holds 38 superdelegates to Clinton’s 502. One has to wonder why Sanders is trailing Clinton in an extremely large superdelegate gap—464 to be exact.

When asked why this could happen, Dr. Peterson shed some light on the subject. He stated that “after its disastrous convention in Chicago in 1968, the Democratic Party changed its delegate selection process to take power away from party officials and give it to the people. However, many Democratic officials were unhappy with who the people selected to be the party’s candidates in 1972 (George McGovern) and 1976 (Jimmy Carter) and sought to regain influence over the nominating process. So they gave elected officeholders and party officials votes at the convention by making them superdelegates. Even though only 15-20 percent of all of the delegates are superdelegates, it makes it more difficult to win the party’s nomination if you are an outsider.”

Peterson connects this to our current election: “For more than 20 years, Bernie Sanders served Vermont in the House of Representative and the Senate as an Independent. He changed his affiliation to the Democratic Party in 2015. That does not give many long-time Democrats much incentive to support him over Hillary Clinton, who has been a Democrat since 1968.” When looking at this aspect of the election, one could agree that the fact that Sanders has been an Independent for the majority of his political career could be a plausible reason for his lack of superdelegates.

Republican “superdelegates” do not exist in the way we know the Democratic superdelegates do. Republican “superdelegates” are not permitted to vote for a candidate if that candidate did not win his or her state primary. Democratic superdelegates have wildcards that are not tied to any one Democrat. They can freely pick who they will support. Because of all of the pressure and media coverage, Peterson iterates that “Given all the attention that the nominating process is getting this year, there will likely be pressure on the parties to change the process in future elections.”