The Un-Democratic Party

Voters milling around on the street where election results are being announced.

It’s fascinating that, though Bernie Sanders has won one primary election and only narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton in two others, Democratic party rules give him next-to-no chance of becoming the Democratic presidential nominee.  These circumstances justified the headline of Monday’s lead article in the New York Times: ‘Delegate Count Leaving Sanders With Steep Climb.’

According the NYT state-level tabulations I checked this morning, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have won an identical number of delegates based on primary voting, winning 51 delegates each.  But because of the large number of so-called super-delegates within the Democratic party, and because establishment politicians are committing their super-delegate votes to Clinton, she suddenly enjoys a large lead quite at odds with the sentiments of the votes that have been cast so far.

New Hampshire
Clinton, 95, 252 votes (38%), 9 delegates
Sanders, 151, 584 votes (60.4%), 15 delegates

Clinton, 701 SDEs (49.9%), 23 delegates
Sanders, 697 SDEs (49.6%), 21 delegates
(Results express proportional voter support in local caucuses.)

Clinton, 6,316 votes (52.6%), 19 delegates
Sanders, 5,678 votes (47.3%), 15 delegates

Clinton, 51 delegates
Sanders, 51 delegates

Clinton, 503 delegates
Sanders, 70 delegates

Thus, the Democratic contest has gone from being anyone’s guess to one that Hillary is decisively winning.  This is bad news for Sanders, and bad policy on the part of the Democratic Party.  According to the AP, 712 Democrats are super-delegates, amounting to about 30% of the 2,382 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Though the Republicans also have super-delegates, they have far fewer of them than the Democrats, so that the Democratic establishment has an inordinately large role in determining its party’s nominee.  It’s just another thing for voters to be angry about, in an election year likely to become famous for an unusually high level of anti-party feeling.

Image: “Reception of presidential and state election returns,”
from this source.

The wood-engraving was published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper during the 1856 presidential campaign, which signaled the beginning of a major party transformation.  The election saw some scattered support for the new radical Republican Party as well as for other nascent third-parties, like the Know-Nothings, who were scrambling to pick up voters left adrift after the demise of the Whigs.  Four years later, the Republicans, with Lincoln as their nominee, would sweep to power, triggering secession and the Civil War.

In the scene, an all-male electorate mills about an open square, awaiting ‘live updates’ of the most recent election returns.  A summary at the bottom reads “Telegraphic reports received, speculation upon the result—the crowd generally excited.  N.Y.C.”  The banner at left proclaims “Liberty and Equality Triumphant!!!”

2 responses

  1. I have never understood what a “super delegate” is and have been voting since 1974 ! It seems that “they” just magically appear out of thin air ! I think that they can also change their votes at leisure.

    • The Democrats’ system is a surprisingly conservative compromise between ‘the people’s will’ and the traditional workings of the delegate system. Originally, voters chose convention delegates who were often local politicians whom they knew. The delegate’s preference for one candidate or another would typically be known, but at the convention the delegate could (and often found it necessary) to vote for someone other than his/her preferred delegate. In the second half of the 20th century, however, delegates’ freedom to shift their vote at the convention was diminished–in this case, they are simply representing the will of the people who voted for them. Meanwhile, the super-delegates were introduced to restore some of the function delegates used to exercise. Yes, they can shift their vote, and who they support is a matter of their personal judgment alone. As I mentioned, there are many more super-delegates in the Democratic Party than in the GOP, giving a bigger role to the established political elite.