Bernie Sanders vs. The Superdelegates?

Originally published at EveryJoe

If the 2016 presidential primaries have been united by one theme, it would be dissatisfaction with politics as usual. On both the Republican and Democratic sides, disillusioned voters have put their faith in perceived outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And given that these candidates’ supporters aren’t party regulars, they’re learning the hard way about the arcane obstacles surrounding delegate acquisition and convention preparation.

There’s no easy way to summarize how the processes work on either the Republican or Democratic side. Delegate allocation and the procedures around voting for them vary from state to state. Some require multi-layered convection processes that span months. But the Democrats have an arguably un-democratic tradition the Republicans don’t: Superdelegates. And nearly all of them are in the tank for Hillary Clinton.

Given the contentious nature of the Clinton-Sanders race – in which 33% of his voters say they won’t support her in a general election – many people are asking, what is a superdelegate? And will they make a difference at the Democratic National Convention if Clinton and Sanders are still locked in a close battle? The answer: It depends.

As the New York times recently described them, superdelegates are, “[M]ajor Democratic elected officials like governors and members of Congress; national and state party leaders; and notable party figures like former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.” Presently, 469 of them support Clinton, and only 31 are backing Sanders.

Naturally, this has drawn the ire of Bernie Sanders supporters, who back him precisely because they feel the system – on both an economic and political level – is rigged to favor elites. Given the pervasiveness of corporate welfare and the fact that the rich are getting richer as middle class wages stagnate, they aren’t wrong in diagnosing the problem. Sanders supporters are, understandably, sick of politics as usual – and nothing could be a better manifestation of their anxiety than the superdelegate count; especially as Sanders has swept Clinton in the last 7 contests.

This led an eager Sanders supporter to create a “Superdelegate Hit List,” filled with the names and contact information of the unelected party elites. Liberal website America Blog chronicled this effort, with writer John Aravosis noting that the list “[I]ncludes the apparent home addresses of several superdelegates, including at least one woman.” Aravosis also said, “[The creator] is urging fellow Sanders supporters to ‘harass’ Hillary Clinton’s superdelegates, in order to get them to change their vote to Bernie Sanders.”

Questionable tactics aside – because “harassing” a superdelegate isn’t likely to change his or her mind – this effort embodies the angst felt by many Sanders supporters. (A feeling shared by Trump’s backers as Cruz out-organizes him on the delegate-collection front.) And while Sanders supporters have every right to question the undemocratic nature of superdelegates in a party that prides itself on promoting democracy, the truth is that Clinton is still ahead – at least for now – with or without these party bigwigs.

As Philip Bump pointed out at the Washington Post, “[B]y every possible democratic measure, Clinton is winning. She’s winning in states (and territories) won, which isn’t a meaningful margin of victory anyway. She’s winning in the popular vote by 2.4 million votes — more than a third more than Sanders has in total. In part that’s because Sanders is winning lower-turnout caucuses, but it’s mostly because he’s winning smaller states. And she’s winning with both types of delegates.”

This does make sense, because not all states are equal in terms of voting population – and in turn, delegate allocation. “Sanders won Oklahoma by 10 points; Clinton won North Carolina by about 13. But Clinton won 14 more delegates than Sanders in North Carolina. He won 4 more than her in Oklahoma,” wrote Bump. As he noted, Oklahoma is a smaller state than North Carolina, and of course as a deep red state, has fewer Democrats. “Where Clinton has won big, there have often been a lot of pledged delegates at stake. Where Sanders has won big, there often haven’t,” concluded Bump.

So yes, it is likely that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, although it won’t be the drama-free coronation she’d hoped for. But Bump does concede that, “In Clinton’s case, she probably won’t get [to the nomination] without superdelegates tilting her way.” And it’s easy to see why this upsets Sanders supporters. But the fact remains, from a purely democratic standpoint, that she does have the backing of more voters than he does – to the tune of millions. If superdelegates didn’t exist and Clinton did have to fight on the convention floor, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where she wouldn’t still come out on top.

Ultimately, while Sanders is putting up an admirable fight, it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to oust the woman that, quite frankly, most political observers originally thought would be the president 8 years ago. The New York primary will be held on April 19th, and Clinton, the former U.S. Senator from the state, is favored to win – by a 53-37 point margin per a recent Fox News poll – despite the fact that Sanders originally hails from Brooklyn. A total of 291 delegates are at stake – 44 of which are superdelegates.

While Sanders and his supporters have legitimate points about rigged systems, and it’s true that the convention processes for both the Republicans and Democrats aren’t the most democratic in the world, there are always two sides to a story. Sometimes, people forget that political parties are technically private clubs. That’s why they get to make their own rules as far as the nominating process goes.

Typically, those rules and the democratic process aren’t in conflict. But insofar as they are, the system is built to work through those kinks. To the extent that the outcomes favor the party elites, yes, Sanders and Trump supporters have a right to be upset. As things stand on the Democratic side however, Clinton has a majority, and likely will continue to. If Democrats are in fact concerned with democracy, then majority rules; and Sanders’ supporters are out of luck this time.

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