If Sanders and Clinton both fail to secure 2,383 pledged delegates, then the superdelegates, including the ones who came out early for Clinton, must be held to task and it must be demanded that they evaluate their votes to make sure that they are following the will of the voters and the best interests of their party. Superdelegates aren’t voters — they’re insurance.
In Part 1, we discussed what superdelegates are and why they exist. In short, superdelegates are party elites that get to vote directly for the Democratic Party’s nominee. Superdelegates are politically connected people who are subject to undue influence and conflicts of interest, and whose votes can essentially be purchased by nominees through promises, hotel rooms, and invitations to campaign events.
The actual, on-the-record reason superdelegates exist is so that the Party can have a say in who the nominee is, guiding the party toward a candidate that can actually win in November, instead of nominating a grassroots candidate that the democratic voters might prefer.
In 2009, the Democratic Change Committee acknowledged that superdelegates had too much influence in the process and recommended a “significant reduction” in their number, warning that too many superdelegates could turn a nomination “in contravention of the wishes of our voters and caucus goers.” Nonetheless, superdelegates still comprise 15% of delegates, meaning that an eventual candidate could win the nomination with only 41% of the pledged delegates.
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As we discussed in Part I, superdelegates have a mandate and a responsibility to act in the best interests of the Party. Although superdelegates are permitted to vote for whichever candidate they prefer — they are not “bound” to the results of their state — the Democratic Party has acknowledged again and again that the “wishes of the voters” should not be contravened by superdelegates.
Former Democratic National Committe chairman Tim Kaine called the “voters’ choices … paramount.” In a New York Times editorial in 2008, Tad Devine (who is Bernie Sanders’s campaign manager today, but who was unaffiliated in 2008) said that “superdelegates were never intended to be part of the mad dash from Iowa to Super Tuesday … [and should not help] determine the party’s nominee before primary and caucus voters have rendered a clear verdict.”
Superdelegates are not “voters”. They should not determine the outcome of this election. They are merely a firewall against an unelectable candidate, and are intended to unite the Party at the convention. In Mr. Devine’s words, “Democratic leaders need to let the voters sort out which one of these two remarkable people [Clinton or Obama] will lead our party and, we hope, the nation.”
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So the question becomes: if Bernie Sanders continues to win states, delegates, and votes, and if Bernie Sanders closes the gap on Hillary Clinton, and if Bernie Sanders shows he can win in November, are superdelegates mandated to support him even if they declared early in favor of Clinton?
The answer to that is a resounding “yes.” But first, we’ve got to show that Bernie Sanders has a chance to represent the will of the voters and can win in November.
1) Sanders May End Up With a Larger Share of the Popular Vote
There is no argument that Clinton has more delegates, and more votes, than does Sanders at this point in the process. But the Clinton-Sanders battle for the nomination is just as much a battle against the clock as it is a battle of policy positions.
At this point, barely more than half of the pledged Democratic delegates have been won, with 2,391 in the rear-view mirror and 1,959 still to go. A look at the Real Clear Politics national poll average tells the story:
The implication here is obvious: Sanders has been chewing into Clinton’s lead for months, and the rigors of an every day campaign have barely slowed down that progress. If Sanders can turn in a good performance in New York (291 delegates) and on April 26th, when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all go to the polls (462 delegates), it would not be difficult to believe that Sanders can win a majority of the delegates from now through the Democratic Convention.
2) It’s Not “Momentum,” It’s Voters Actual Attitudes Toward the Candidates
A lot of Hillary supporters are mocking Sanders supporters for touting their candidates’ momentum. In a way, they are right – momentum is not the right concept, because momentum implies that Sanders support is only growing stronger because of his mass and motion. This is incorrect. Sanders is growing because he is the better candidate, and more and more Americans are learning that.
Over and over again, we see that if Sanders had a weakness, it was that voters didn’t know about him early enough in the process:
The New York Times had a fantastic article last week entitled “Early Missteps Seen as a Drag on Bernie Sanders’s Campaign,” in which they interviewed 15 people who were on his team or close to him. The article was viewed by many as a pre-mortem of a campaign that continues onward despite very long mathematical odds. The Times put it as follows:
All those decisions stemmed in part from Mr. Sanders’s outlook on the race. He was originally skeptical that he could beat Mrs. Clinton, and his mission in 2015 was to spread his political message about a rigged America rather than do whatever it took to win the nomination. By the time he caught fire with voters this winter and personally began to believe he could defeat Mrs. Clinton, she was already on her way to building an all but insurmountable delegate lead.
But Sanders has caught fire, and not just because he’s won eight of the last nine primaries or caucuses. Sanders has closed the gap not just in white states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin, but across all states. Sanders lost by a hair in Iowa and Missouri (losing by 0.3% or less in both) shocked in Michigan, 49.8% to 48.3%, and closed huge gaps in more diverse places like Ohio and North Carolina.
Take a look at Sanders and Clinton’s favorability over time, as another indicator of how the race has developed with increased exposure:
Sanders and Clinton have been locked in this campaign since the first Democratic Debate in October 2015, and since the Iowa Caucuses in February 2016. Clinton has pulled very few punches with regards to Sanders — recently attacking a simple misstatement he made during a speech and attempting to pin the Sandy Hook Massacre on his voting record — so why do people think that it is Sanders who would suffer worse from exposure to Republican attacks in the General Election?
3) Sanders will get the support of Independents, Clinton will not
This one should be simple, but apparently it is not. Sanders has been receiving overwhelming support from Independents this primary season, out polling Clinton by a whopping 61-37. Independents make up a whopping 43% of the general electorate, an all-time high, making it incredibly important that our candidate appeal to them.
In contrast, Clinton does poorly with Independents. This shows in her favorability ratings — even prior to her nosedive in approval during this campaign:
4) Sanders polls better than Clinton versus Republican candidates
The foregoing should have made this clear, but I’ll spell it out again. Despite the narrative that people have been forcing on us, Bernie Sanders is an extraordinarily electable candidate. Sanders does better than Hillary in all head-to-head match-ups against possible Republican nominees, as has been the case for several months:
- Clinton v. Trump: Clinton +10.6
- Sanders v. Trump: Sanders +16.5
- Clinton v. Cruz: Clinton +2.5
- Sanders v. Cruz: Sanders +10.1
- Clinton v. Kasich: Kasich +6.6
- Sanders v. Kasich: Sanders +2.7
Hillary supporters may tell you that head-to-head matchups don’t mean much in advance of an election, but they are wrong. FiveThirtyEight had a great piece on that topic, saying polls a year in advance do not matter, and they are right. But it is now April 2016, not November 2015, when people were still getting to know Ben Carson and Donald Trump.
The candidates policy positions are clear. The skeletons are out of the closet. The debate performances are in the books. Sanders’s superior performance in a theoretical general election is 100% real.
5) Bernie Sanders is clearly the better General Election candidate
The Hill today called Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings “historically low.” Several news outlets have pointed out that no candidate has ever been elected President with as low favorability ratings as Clinton has right now.
Sanders weaknesses against Clinton early in this primary season — women voters and minority voters — evaporate in a general election when faced against a Republican. Clinton cannot reach out to Independents, while Sanders can. Black and Hispanic Democrats view Sanders overwhelmingly favorably. Clinton voters express little hesitance to support Sanders in the general election.
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This is all hypothetical, to the extent that Sanders must prevent Clinton from crossing the magical 2,383 delegates needed to win the nomination with pledged delegates alone. If Sanders and Clinton split the remaining pledged delegates 50-50, both will end up short of the number. And if Sanders can out-pace Hillary even modestly — for instance 52% to 48% — the difference in pledged delegates would be essentially meaningless (in that example, the for example, the final total would be 2,245-2,104).
Superdelegates cannot, and should not, override the wishes of the voters. This is not a concept that is new to this election, nor is it something that Sanders supporters invented out of the blue. It is a legitimate discussion of what the purpose of superdelegates truly is.
Ultimately, if Sanders and Clinton both fail to secure 2,383 pledged delegates, the superdelegates, including the ones who came out early for Clinton, must be held to task and it must be demanded that they evaluate their votes to make sure that they are following the will of the voters and the best interests of their party. Superdelegates aren’t voters — they’re insurance.
If Sanders maintains his massive edge in favorability, closes the gap and even surpasses Clinton in national polls, and continues to show himself to be an extraordinarily viable candidate in the general election, superdelegates are duty-bound to support him.