Note: this post originally appeared on the blog of the Carnegie Democratic Committee, by Rick D’Loss, Chair of that committee
Yesterday we finished the first official contest of this presidential election season. And it ended with a very exciting tie. And so we move on to New Hampshire.
From the beginning the pundits have been saying that it really doesn’t matter whether Bernie gets more primary votes than Hillary— she still wins the nomination. Really? What are they talking about? What they’re talking about are super-delegates.
The short story is this. In 1972, George McGovern won the Democratic nomination. In the general election however, he was soundly trashed by Richard Nixon. And so the DNC (Democratic National Committee) devised a system that would ensure that “the Party’s interests” would prevail over a very popular, grass roots candidate like McGovern. They established that a certain number of convention delegates would be reserved for elected officials (governors, senators, etc) and party leaders (DNC members) who could vote however they pleased. This number would be substantial. It is estimated that in 2016 there will be 713 superdelegates at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. This represents about 30% of the delegates! Think about that. All the campaigning and voting that will proceed around the country in upcoming months will determine about 70% of the delegates, and the other 30% will be determined by party leaders.
What impact does this have on Clinton-Sanders? Many super-delegates announced support for Hillary even before the race began. This includes Howard Dean, former Chair of the DNC. Even at this early date in the campaign, 347 super-delegates have already announced for Hillary. That’s almost half of the super-delegates. Before anyone has even voted, Hillary has 15% of the Convention delegates. That is why the pundits have been saying Hillary has it wrapped up even before the primary voting starts.
There is good and bad to this, of course. Admittedly, it’s kind of embarrassing that the Democratic Party has put shackles on democracy (the Republicans don’t have super-delegates). But the good part is that the party leaders are supposed to take some responsibility for vetting of candidates. We make an assumption that our elected officials (here in PA— Gov. Wolf, Sen. Casey, former Gov. Rendell, etc) will look out for our best interests and not create a repeat of 1972. But it’s also saying that the super-delegates who committed to Hillary early didn’t even take the time to consider who the other candidates are. It reeks of party machine politics, and that could turn off the next generation of voters.
Bernie Sanders is carrying the overwhelming majority of young democrats. What will be the message to them if they are ignored? Would they come to the conclusion that they would be better served by moving to the Green Party or the Working Families Party? I hope the super-delegates have enough sense to not piss off the future of the party. The Sanders movement is huge and it’s impact should not be ignored.