By Kaye Foley
As the battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination heated up, there’s been a word that’s been thrown about a lot — superdelegates.
Superdelegates are only a factor when it comes to the Democratic race because Republicans don’t have them.
Well, first things first — a delegate is someone who attends the Democratic National Convention and formally pledges to support a certain candidate. How a delegate votes is based on the results of state primaries and caucuses, reflecting the will of the people. So when Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton win a primary or a caucus, they earn “pledged delegates.”
However, about 15 percent of the total delegates who will attend this summer’s convention are “unpledged” and free to vote for whichever candidate they want, regardless of who won in their state or district. These unpledged delegates are the superdelegates, and they are made up of elected officials, like members of Congress, notable members of the party, like President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and members of the Democratic National Committee.
On Feb. 9, 2016, at the New Hampshire primary, Sanders earned 15 pledged delegates and Clinton earned 9, based on the percentage of votes they received. Sanders won the popular vote by 22 percentage points. But because of support from the New Hampshire governor, a senator and other state officials — aka superdelegates — Clinton ultimately left that state with as many delegates as Sanders.
The system was developed in the early 1980s as a way for party leaders to provide some guidance to voters when it came to nominating candidates who could hold their own against Republicans in the general election. But since superdelegates were created, the votes they cast have never actually changed the course of a presidential race.
So as we wait to see whose run to the White House gets supercharged, at least when you hear about superdelegates, you can say, “Now I Get It.”