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Debate: Superdelegates

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Is the superdelegate system in the United States sound?

Background and content

"Superdelegate" is an informal term commonly used for some of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, the presidential nominating convention of the United States Democratic Party.

Unlike most convention delegates, the superdelegates are not selected based on the party primaries and caucuses in each U.S. state, in which voters choose among candidates for the party's presidential nomination. Instead, most of the superdelegates are seated automatically, based solely on their status as current or former party leaders and elected officials ("PLEOs"). Others are chosen during the primary season. All the superdelegates are free to support any candidate for the nomination.

Debate surrounds the superdelegate systems because superdelegates do not necessarily follow the will of Democratic constituents. Many argue that this undermines the democratic process. Party-insiders, many believe, have far too much sway through the superdelegate system. Others argue, however, that this system is important for ensuring that experienced political leaders in the party have more say in selecting a superior candidate that can win in the general election.

Wikipedia: "Superdelegates" for more background.

Contents

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Democracy: Is the superdelegate system sufficiently representative and democratic?

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Yes

  • Superdelegates are representative since most are democratically elected. Many argue that the superdelegate system is undemocratic because superdelegates are not bound to vote in accordance with the electotrate's will. The problem with this argument is that it does not consider the fact that most superdelegates are elected representatives of the electorate. They are, therefore, representative to some degree of the electorate. As such, the process is fairly democratic.
  • Primaries are largely the internal affairs of political parties Primaries are not intended to be a fully democratic process. Political parties have a right to free association protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Included in this, is the right to construct primaries how they want. There is not obligation that the primary elections be "fair". But, it is the party itself that has substantial authority to make the choice and to craft the rules of the primary that frame the choice. Therefore, primary elections don't have to be perfectly fair.
  • Primary elections need not be fully democratic This is based on the fact that party nominations are, largely, the internal affairs of political parties. If the party wanted to deny its people the right to vote in the primaries, it would, legally, have the right to do so. But, since this would upset voters and degrade the legitimacy of the nominee to voters in the general election, such a course of action is obviously undesirable to the parties. Nevertheless, it is perfectly legal and appropriate for parties to limit voter power and democratic practices and uphold the independent voting rights of superdelegates in order to advance the internal interests of the political party.
  • Superdelegates provide greater mainstream party representation Party activists, who more frequently seek to become delegates, are generally more liberal or conservative than the base of their parties. Therefore, elected delegates end up being unrepresentative of the base of the parties. In this sense, the elected delegate system is somewhat undemocratic. The superdelegate system was designed, in part, to help ensure that delegates at the national conventions were more representative of their parties.
  • "Undemocratic" superdelegates are only 20% of total number of delegates. The delegates picked by voters take up more than 80 percent of the whole; the superdelegates, make up the rest. This obviously gives the vast majority of power to citizens rather, while reserving a modest level of power for superdelegates in order to maintain the integrity of the party agenda.
  • Superdelegates would be meaningless if they had to vote with electorate. Superdelegates were not created to simply follow the will of the electorate. They were, in fact, created in 1984 for the specific purpose of placing a party-agenda check on the electorate. If superdelegates are pressured to vote simply according to their constituency, than the whole purpose of the system will prove meaningless.
  • Superdelegates have the people's interests at heart While superdelegates are often antagonized as old party establishment and closed-door dealers, they are actually typically well-intentioned public servants that have the interests of their constituents, democracy, and the future of their party at heart.
  • How superdelegates should vote with popular will is unclear Should superdelegates vote according to their constituents, the constituents of their state, or by the national will? There is not established guideline for superdelegates as far as voting according to popular will. Therefore, demands that superdelegates follow the will of the voters are unclear and do not provide a prescription for superdelegates as to how they should go about this process.



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No

  • Superdelegates violate the principal of one person one vote The votes of citizens should all count equally. If that is not the case, than the principal of democracy, equality, and non-discrimination are placed under violation. Indeed, individual superdelegates have the voting power of over 10,000 ordinary citizens. Even if these are party leaders, they should not be given this kind of disproportionate power.
  • Superdelegates should follow the will of the voters This is a necessary element of upholding the impression that the voters' voices are being fully considered and that the primary elections are fully democratic. This upholds the integrity of the process, the judgment of the Democratic party in creating that process, and, ultimately, the popular legitimacy of the nominee.
  • Superdelegates are wrongly committing before voting is done This argument generally rests on the notion that voters should decide the direction of elections, and that superdelegates are primarily responsible for flocking to the support of the candidate that the voters select. The purpose of this is to provide the nominee a good delegate margin to strengthen their legitimacy as the nominee and to unify the party around them. But, in 2008, delegates have been committing before the voting is done.
  • Voters should be fully empowered to choose primary nominee. It is true that political parties are currently given the power to choose the nominee that they desire through a process largely of their choosing, in accordance with the right to association laws. But, if it is believed that the general election must be fully democratic, why then not the primaries? The primaries are, in fact, where most partisan voters choose to their candidate. Most democrats will vote in the general election for whichever Democratic nominee arises, and most Republicans will vote in the general election for whichever Republican nominee emerges. Therefore, the real "choice" for most citizens is made in the primaries. As such, it is where citizens' have the most power of choice through their vote, and it, therefore, should be at least as democratic as the general election. Superdelegates in the primary, however, contravene this real necessity for greater democracy in the primaries.
  • The US superdelegate system is undemocratic Superdelegates are not obligated to vote according to popular will for the Democratic nominee, as are other delegates. This means that superdelegates constrain the power of the people to determine the Democratic nominee. This is, in fact, precisely why superdelegates were created in 1984. Such constraints on popular will in favor of power-insiders are, inherently, undemocratic.
  • Superdelegates have too much power relative to ordinary voters The average superelegate's individual vote counts as much as the vote of over 10,000 ordinary citizens. This is a massive amount of power. Perhaps superdelegates shouldn't constitute 20% of the voting-power of the overall delegates, but more like %5 or 10%. Or, perhaps they shouldn't count at all.
  • Superdelegates strike a nerve after 2000 Bush-Gore elections The 2000 Florida Supreme court decision that gave George Bush the presidency over Al Gore undermined, for many people, confidence in the democratic nature of the electoral process. It was felt that the decision should have been made by the voters, not the Florida supreme court. With superdelegates playing a major role in the 2008 presidential elections, citizens and writers are drawing the comparison to the 2000 Bush-Gore elections. Superdelegates, therefore, agitate unhealed wounds.
  • Superdelegates were not elected or appointed to elect presidential nominee Superdelegates are a group of Representatives, Senators, governors, party members and ex-officials, these folks represent 20% of all the delegates needed to be nominated but are not bound to vote according to any constituency.
  • Superdelegates are inappropriate following democracy-snubbing Bush era Many citizens feel that the Bush administration was overly secretive and undemocratic. The superdelegate system adds to feelings that American politics are undemocratic and conducted behind closed-doors. A pattern of undemocratic practices is particularly costly to popular respect for the system.
  • Superdelegates represent old era of closed-door politics. The superdelegate system reminds many citizens of the old political system of closed-door politics.


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Deserving: Do superdelegates deserve more power as party leaders?

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Yes

  • Superdelegates are life-long party leaders that deserve more power It seems appropriate that life-long party leaders might have greater voting power than ordinary citizens in the nomination of a presidential candidate. While the principal of one person one vote may apply appropriately to ordinary citizens, elected party leaders should not be considered ordinary citizens in the context of the Democratic primary elections.


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No

  • Superdelegates violate the principal of one person one vote The votes of citizens should all count equally. If that is not the case, than the principal of democracy, equality, and non-discrimination are placed under violation. Indeed, individual superdelegates have the voting power of over 10,000 ordinary citizens. Even if these are party leaders, they should not be given this kind of disproportionate power.


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Party interest: Are superdelegates important to upholding Dem. party interests?

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Yes

  • Superdelegates should vote their beliefs, not according to popular vote. The superdelegate system was created in 1984 with the intent for superdelegates to vote their minds. The reason for this was indeed to provide a check on the popular vote that has the capacity to diverge from the core principles and interests of the Democratic party (including the interest of nominating a candidate that stands the best chance of winning in the general election).
  • Primaries are largely the internal affairs of political parties Primaries are not intended to be a fully democratic process. Political parties have a right to free association protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Included in this, is the right to construct primaries how they want. There is not obligation that the primary elections be "fair". But, it is the party itself that has substantial authority to make the choice and to craft the rules of the primary that frame the choice. Therefore, primary elections don't have to be perfectly fair.
  • Superdelegates provide greater mainstream party representation Party activists, who more frequently seek to become delegates, are generally more liberal or conservative than the base of their parties. Therefore, elected delegates end up being unrepresentative of the base of the parties. In this sense, the elected delegate system is somewhat undemocratic. The superdelegate system was designed, in part, to help ensure that delegates at the national conventions were more representative of their parties.
  • Superdelegates are the ultimate protectors Superdelegates are those who cared about the party and its standing beyond a single election or a single candidate.If a candidate had sewed up a sufficient number of delegates for the nomination and then was ensnared in a scandal, these party officials could embrace an alternative candidate, which can secure the party in final national presidential election. They also shoulder the obligation to rescue the party when it goes off the cliff.It is instructive to review these professional politicians' choice.[1]
  • Superdelegates provide unifying margin of victory in tight race When one candidate has secured an adequate lead, even if marginal, superdelegates play an important role in converging in support of the victor. This provides the victor with a larger margin and added legitimacy and respect among Democratic voters. This unifies the party for the fight ahead in the general election.


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No

  • Walter Mondale's 1984 election shows risks of superdelegate nominees The superdelegate system was first instituted in the 1984 Democracy primary elections in which Walter Mondale became the Democratic nominee against Ronald Reagan in the general election. Mondale's nomination was decided, ultimately, by superdelegates. Some believe that this "party insider deal" undermined Mondale's legitimacy and is partly to blame for his landslide loss in the general election bid.
  • An unrepresentative primary system damages the party strength Including voters in the nomination process provides legitimacy to the nominee and fosters citizen participation in the process. It provides ordinary democratic voters with feelings of empowerment within their Democratic party. Superdelegates undermine these feelings of empowerment among Democratic voters by slighly marginalizing the importance of Democratic voters, and subsequently undermines feelings of impact and belonging in the Democratic party. This undermines the party.
  • Superdelegates often vote out of self-interest for likely winner While some argue that it is good for superdelegates to vote according to their own beliefs because this might keep nominees more consistent with the Party-agenda, there is reason to believe that superdelegates are not voting according to their own concience and interpretation of the party agenda. Instead, it would appear that many superdelegates vote simply according to their interpretation of the likely winner of the primary nomination, because such a vote ensures that they have good standing with the nominee and possible President, whereby it becomes more possible for these party insiders to ask for favors from the President down the line.
  • Superdelegates represent old era of closed-door politics. The superdelegate system reminds many citizens of the old political system of closed-door politics.
  • Candidate solicitations of superdelegates damage the political process Candidates have been aggressively soliciting superdelegates for their support. These solicitations include the use of friends of superdelegates by the candidates. Candidates have even donated large sums of money to the re-election campaigns of superdelegates who are running for office in 2008. This makes the process look "dirty", giving the impression that candidates are "buying" the votes of superdelegates.
  • The superdelegate system is superfluous. If superdelegates are voting according to popular opinion, as some suggest, and which might be the only fairly democratic system, then they actually become completely pointless. If they are acting exactly like ordinary delegates, why don't we abandon the superdelegate system and have only ordinary delegates?


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Winning: Do superdelegates increase chances of Dem. victory in the general election?

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Yes

  • Superdelegates help increase the likelihood of a Democratic presidency Superdelegates are senior party members that understand better than anyone else what is required to win in the general election. Their independent vote in the primaries helps increase the likelihood that a winning candidate is the nominee in the general election. In fact, the very reason for the establishment of the superdelegate system in 1984 surrounded a series of Democrats achieving the nomination that lost big in the general elections (George McGovern in 1972 against Nixon and Walter Mondale in 1984 against Ronald Reagan.)


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No

  • An unrepresentative primary system damages the party strength Including voters in the nomination process provides legitimacy to the nominee and fosters citizen participation in the process. It provides ordinary democratic voters with feelings of empowerment within their Democratic party. Superdelegates undermine these feelings of empowerment among Democratic voters by slighly marginalizing the importance of Democratic voters, and subsequently undermines feelings of impact and belonging in the Democratic party. This undermines the party.


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Tie-breaking: Are superdelegates useful in the event of tie between candidates?

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Yes



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No

  • Superdelegates may discourage future political participation If the perception builds that primary elections are decided in large part in back-room dealings, voters may feel alienated and discouraged from participating in future elections. This would be particularly unfortunate in America, given the recent upsurge in voter participation.
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Convention: Is it important that party leaders attend national convention?

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Yes

  • Superdelegates represent party-leadership at national convention One of the concerns that led to the creation of the superdelegate system was that the party leadership was not effectively represented at the national convention. But, the convention is where the party agenda is traditionally debated and re-established in every election cycle, so the presence of the party leadership is crucial. If superdelegates did not exist, the party leadership would not be adequately involved in the shaping of the party agenda, at great cost to the future of the Democratic party.



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No

  • Superdelegate placement at national convention should not be a major consideration. The superdelegate system should not exist simply to send party leaders to the national convention. This is particularly true if the system is considered undemocratic. The system will be viewed simply as a means of sending Democratic leaders to what is often viewed as a big party, and at the expense of democracy. This will further undermine voter confidence in the process.


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Pro/con resources

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Yes

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No


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Pro/con videos:

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Yes

"Don't Sweat the Superdelegates"[2]


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No

"Hillary Discusses Superdelegates at Black State of the Union"[3]


See also

External links and resources

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