Oh, politics

Election media coverage, that carousel of drama, has recently led to public discussion of superdelegates in the Democratic Party primary elections.  The story is that even though Sanders beat Clinton in New Hampshire by a landslide, Clinton somehow won more delegates anyway.  That’s because some delegates are decided by popular vote within their respective precincts, while other delegates, known as superdelegates, are chosen by the delegate alone.

Paste magazine has a good explanation of the entire process and its application to current events.  Basically, the superdelegates don’t have nearly as much power as it may first seem, because if they went against the popular vote, enough voters would object that it would throw the general election.  Furthermore, superdelegates have not actually voted yet, and have only made non-binding promises on who to vote for.  Many superdelegates have not made any promises at all, so counting the promises amounts to selection bias.

However, I want to point out one aspect of the Paste article which is absolutely ridiculous.  Note the article’s title is “After Sanders’ Big Win in New Hampshire, Establishment Figures Want to Scare You with Superdelegates. Here’s Why It’s Bullshit”.  Okay, but who are these establishment figures, and where are they trying to scare us?

Paste‘s angle is nonsense because the superdelegates issue is not positive press for Clinton.  Quite the opposite.  The apparent takeaway message from the superdelegates story is that Clinton is supported by the establishment, and the establishment has unfair and corrupt means of helping her win the primary.  This is not a story that will cow Bernie fans into submission, it’s one that will galvanize them into action.

Most mainstream news sources don’t offer opinions on the matter, but you can get a sense from the more opinionated news articles.  Here’s one article titled “The DNC Just Screwed Over Bernie Sanders and Spit in Voters’ Faces“.  Another is titled “How Do Superdelegates Work? The Primaries Are Dwarfed By This Antiquated System“.

It’s funny how all these articles take a pro-Bernie angle, and then the backlash article on Paste also manages to take a pro-Bernie angle.  It reminds me of those times when I see hundreds of media articles all claiming to talk about that incident that the media isn’t talking about.   I’m sure this is just about the least ridiculous thing going on in election news, but I just wanted to mention it.

On a side note, it seems like the superdelegate system is just bad.  To the extent that superdelegates have real power, it does not seem useful for 712 elites to have the power to throw the election.  Superdelegates mainly seem to serve the function of getting people angry at the DNC every election cycle.

3 thoughts on “Oh, politics

  1. Siggy February 10, 2016 / 7:14 pm

    Another irony: The superdelegates aren’t even the most unfair thing about the democratic primaries. States that get early primaries, like Iowa and New Hampshire, have disproportionate power because they impact public opinion and campaign funding. So when the media makes a lot of hay out of the New Hampshire superdelegates, they are decrying one injustice while perpetuating another.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sara K. February 15, 2016 / 2:11 pm

    Here’s another essay about the superdelegate issue:


    I think it’s unlikely that the superdelegates would throw the vote to Clinton if Sanders obviously won the popular vote by a significant margin … but they might throw the vote if Sanders wins the popular vote by a small margin. For example, have the popular vote counts for the Iowa caucus been released to the public? The superdelegates, being party insiders, will have better information about election results than the public, so if the vote is close but in Sanders favor, they could concoct a story based on selectively chosen information to justify supporting Hillary instead.

    There is also the question of whether they would actually prefer Sanders over certain Republican candidates. Certain powerful people (for example, many people with Wall Street power) support both Democrats and Republicans so that, no matter who wins the election, they will have their interests served. The superdelegates may be willing to nominate Hillary over the popular vote, even if would cost Hillary the presidential election, just to see that Bernie Sanders does not win, and ensure their continued patronage by the powerful. It would cause long-term damage to the Democrat Party … but do the leaders understand or care?


  3. Siggy February 15, 2016 / 2:25 pm

    You only need about half of the superdelegates to vote for the popular favorite. Then the rest doesn’t really matter. I would guess that a lot of superdelegates are currently unpledged precisely because they prefer to vote for the popular favorite. That’s what I meant in the OP by selection bias.


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