Commentary & Community

Evolution of Superdelegates’ Influence in Presidential Primaries


At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week Bernie Sanders supporters have been rallying in an attempt to change the party’s rules on Superdelegates. This blog post outlines how Superdelegates emerged, the rules that govern them, and the arguments for and against their role in selecting the Democrat nominees for President and Vice President.

A quick history of Superdelegates

After a fractious 1968 Democratic Convention when the party elite nominated the pro-Vietnam War candidate, Hubert Humphrey, over anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy – supported by many grassroots members – in 1970 the Democratic Party introduced an open caucus process, giving all members of the party an equal vote on the nominee.

However, over the course of the next three elections the Democratic Party suffered two Presidential landslide losses. First, in 1972, anti-war Senator George McGovern (S.D.) suffered an unprecedented 49-state defeat to Richard Nixon. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan by 10 percent of the popular vote. The Democratic Party used the two failed candidates as scapegoats – arguing that the nominating process of Presidential candidates should be back in the hands of the party leaders.

Superdelegates were installed within the party to act as a guiding hand that ensured candidates be ‘electorally robust.' They were originally intended to represent 30% of delegates at the national convention, however, during the 1982 convention only represented 14% of delegates. From this point in time, the number of Superdelegates have since undergone incremental growth—reaching 20% of total delegates in 2008. However, it should be noted that the percentage decreased to 15% in 2016.


Current Rules behind Superdelegates

The DNC’s 2016 regulations for Superdelegates are contained within Rule 9.A of the Delegate Selection Material document. Superdelegates include:


  • “The Democratic President and the Democratic Vice President of the United States, if applicable; and


  • All Democratic members of the United States House of Representatives and all Democratic members of the United States Senate; and


  • The Democratic Governor, if applicable; and


  • All former Democratic Presidents, all former Democratic Vice Presidents, all former Democratic Leaders of the U.S. Senate, all former Democratic Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic Minority Leaders, as applicable, and all former Chairs of the Democratic National Committee.”

Each of these individual Superdelegates represents only themselves when it comes to deciding the nominee. Superdelegates have the same voting power of a single delegate. However, Superdelegates are not required to vote by caucus or primary election results. This selection process makes Superdelegates autonomous over whom they choose to nominate.


Arguments for and against changing the Superdelegate rules

The case for moving away from the current Superdelegate rules has historical context – see the previous section on 1968 Democratic Convention – and contends that the influence of Superdelegates in the nomination process continues to be undemocratic. This argument prioritizes the collective will of the party over the established elite members.

However, the argument for supporting Superdelegates centers on electability and need to make the nomination process pragmatic for the future success of the party. Without Superdelegates, it is argued, the party would be open to hostile takeover that could undermine its core values. Superdelegates function to maintain the status quo and are required to ensure a ‘fair’ fight between candidates.


Get involved

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Vote Spotter convention coverage blog -- it's all Trump

Our plucky new cub reporter was in Cleveland and whipped up this for VS:

Michigan delegates converged on Cleveland to support their respective candidates and the Republican National Committee's platform. Several Michigan delegates talked to Vote Spotter about what issues matter to them and why they're supporting Donald Trump, who accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night.

Tamara Carlone, who was elected by the 11th congressional district as a Kasich delegate, supports the New York businessman and said the RNC's platform is more conservative than previous conventions.

“The RNC platform that’s been passed is very strong. It’s even more conservative than before, which I love," she said Tuesday. "I especially love the part on education and marriage."

"My candidate is Donald Trump. He wants to make America great again," Carlone added. "He wants to go back to founding principles and he wants to keep our nation safe."

Other issues important to Carlone are national security and supporting law enforcement officers.

"I have kids, I want them to be safe and I don’t want to have to worry about our cops getting shot and this type of thing, and I do believe once it’s said and done that [Trump] will unite us."

Don Evan, a delegate from Novi, said liberty-related issues, the Fourth Amendment, and immigration are most important to him.

"My biggest issues that are important to me are the liberty agenda and bringing us back to the constitution -- Fourth Amendment issues are really big for me, cell phone spying, things like that."

"I support Donald Trump because I really do think he's going to make America great again, policy wise," he said. "Immigration is obviously what he hit on hard and I think he's going to actually do it. No one else is talking immigration. Also, to them its just rhetoric."

Lauren Burress is a delegate from West Bloomfield who also pledged support to Trump prior to his official nomination, citing border issues.

"My candidate is Trump and it's because of the border issues. I'd like to see a wall. But also the northern border is very important," she said. "Nothing has changed, it's gotten worse."

Wes Nakagiri of Hartland cited trade and immigration as reasons for supporting Trump.

"I like [Trump's] position on immigration; I'm a fan of the wall," he said. "I like his position on trade. I don't think we really have free trade, I think we have managed trade. I think America is getting the short end of the stick on managed trade."

Marian Sheridan, alternate delegate for Donald Trump from West Bloomfield, said the RNC platform's section on simplifying the IRS and repealing the Johnson Amendment are important to her.

"What I like about the platform is the section on the IRS," she said. "I think it's very important that the code be simplified. I think that helps to de-weaponize the IRS."

"I like the repeal of the Johnson Amendment that's recommended in [the RNC platform] because I think it limits free speech of non profits. I think that's really important for non-profit organizations to have that freedom," Sheridan added.

Derek Draplin
CapCon Reporter

Who is Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Governor Mike Pence?


Mr. Pence is opposed to granting amnesty for people who have come to the United States without authorization. He has supported increased border security measures, strict enforcement of laws prohibiting unauthorized residents from working in the United States and a government-run guest worker program that would place prospective immigrants with employers who cannot find American workers to fill open jobs. Earlier this year, he sought to bar the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state.

Gay Rights

Mr. Pence, who has supported numerous legislative efforts to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana, was at the center of the national debate over so-called religious freedom laws that critics said could make it easier for businesses to refuse service to gay couples. As a congressman, Mr. Pence opposed federal funding that would support treatment for people suffering from H.I.V. and AIDS, unless the government simultaneously invested in programs to discourage people from engaging in same-sex relationships. He also resisted changes to hate-crime laws that that would have included acts against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and he opposed the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a Clinton administration policy that allowed closeted L.G.B.T. people to serve in the military.


As governor, Mr. Pence signed into law several regulations that add broad limits to women’s access to abortions. He approved a bill in March that outlawed abortions based on a fetus’s “race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability.” The bill led to backlash on social media from opponents of the regulation. Mr. Pence also called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood after footage leaked by abortion rights opponents that outraged many abortion rights advocates. The videos turned out to have been altered by the people who released them and the videographers were later indicted on a charge of tampering with a government record.

Foreign Policy

Mr. Pence’s foreign policy views mesh well with Mr. Trump’s “America First” framework, which is built around the idea of a robust American military. The Indiana governor called for big increases in military spending during a speech in 2015 and he has criticized Democrats who do not use the phrase “Islamic extremism” when discussing jihadists. As a member of Congress, where he was on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Pence was a strong supporter of Israel and a proponent of tough interrogation measures for prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Mr. Pence voted to authorize military action in Iraq in 2002 and opposed proposals to set a date to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Gun Rights

Mr. Pence has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, which has financially supported his campaigns for the House and for governor. He supports a national right to carry a firearm in public and in 2004, as a member of the House, he voted to repeal gun control laws in Washington, D.C. He wrote on Twitter in June that he “will always be a strong proponent of the Second Amendment.”


Mr. Pence has said he supports free trade, but he has also raised concern over the enforcement of trade agreements with China. Specifically, he asked the federal government to investigate allegations that Chinese steel companies were dodging tariffs in deals with American businesses. As governor, Mr. Pence visited nations like Japan and Germany on trade missions meant to stoke Indiana’s trade relationships with international businesses.

Economy and Budget

The Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning group, called Mr. Pence a “champion tax cutter” and lauded his “frugal” spending record. As governor, he repealed Indiana’s inheritance tax and lowered taxes on corporate income and business property. In 2010, Mr. Pence proposed a bill in the House that would have instituted a limit on federal spending, but the idea did not have enough support to pass.


In 2015, Governor Pence threatened to disobey the Obama administration’s orders to lower carbon emissions unless the regulations underwent extensive changes. Mr. Pence said the regulations would “raise electricity costs on Hoosiers, result in less reliable electricity and impede economic growth and prosperity in Indiana and the rest of the country.” He said the Clean Power Plan was “ill conceived and poorly constructed,” and he accused the Environmental Protection Agency of going beyond its legal authority in enacting the rules under the plan. Under Governor Pence, Indiana joined several other states that have tried to block the Clean Power Plan in court.


Mr. Pence was one of only 25 Republican congressmen who voted against President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy. As governor, he challenged conservative Republicans in the State Senate to support legislation to establish a preschool program that would primarily serve children in poor families. He vocally supported school choice, locally set learning standards, and pushed to direct state support toward technical and vocational education programs.

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