Bernie Sanders can win more caucuses and primaries than Hillary Clinton and still lose the Democratic nomination. That’s because of the power of Democratic superdelegates.
In selecting a candidate for the presidential nomination, the Democratic Party has both elected delegates and unelected delegates. Elected delegates are acquired through the popular vote in state caucuses and primaries, are awarded proportionally to each candidate according to the results of each state’s caucus or primary, and are pledged or required to vote at the Democratic National Convention (Convention) for a particular candidate as determined by the popular vote. Unelected delegates are unpledged; at the Convention each one is free to cast one vote for any candidate regardless of who won the primary or caucus, thus their super-delegate status.
The Democratic National Committee (DMC) gives superdelegate status to all current Democratic governors, senators, and congressional representatives; certain big city mayors and state lawmakers; all former Democratic presidents, vice presidents, U.S. Senate leaders, speakers of the House, and members of the DMC. President Obama is also a superdelegate.
There are 712 superdelegates. This number is about 15% of the total number of delegates and about 30% of the total number of delegates needed to secure the nomination. Although the number is not enough to win the nomination, it is critical.
Prior to the South Carolina Democratic primary, Clinton and Sanders each had 51 pledged delegates. However, Clinton had gained support from more than half (451) of the superdelegates, compared to 19 for Sanders, giving her an overall delegate count of 503 while Sanders had only 70. Many other superdelegates are expected to support Clinton in the coming months and their support will further increase Clinton’s overall delegate count.
Superdelegates were created by Democratic officials as a safety valve in case voters backed a candidate the establishment considered unelectable. Sanders may win a majority of the primaries and caucuses but many a superdelegate may consider a 74-year-old democratic- socialist unelectable and cast a vote for Hillary Clinton.