Superdelegates in the Twilight Zone

Yesterday the Associated Press decided to scoop the world and declared that Hillary Clinton had crossed the critical 2,383 delegate threshold needed to “clinch” the Democratic Party nomination.  This must have been disorienting for people who realized no votes were cast yesterday, but whatever.  The AP came to this conclusion by counting the superdelegates for Clinton, even though they don’t vote officially until the convention and are free to change their minds. The superdelegate count keeps shifting, as does the pledged delegate count, but at some point yesterday the stars aligned and the threshold was crossed.

In theory, it could cross back again. I keep expecting to hear Rod Serling doing the voice over —

Many people are angry about this, as it could potentially suppress the votes in the primaries today and change the outcome, and not just of the presidential primaries. Thereisnospoon writes at Daily Kos,

At a practical level, California’s terrible top-two “jungle” primary means that a high turnout is crucial to the success of Democrats downballot. In California’s Dem-majority 24th district where I live, turnout among the overwhelmingly Sanders-supporting college students at UC Santa Barbara could make the difference between whether a Democrat even advances into the November general election or whether we will be forced to choose between two Republicans. Calling the race for Clinton in advance of the primary doesn’t just hurt Democrats at the hyperlocal level: it might actually mean fewer Democrats in Congress after November, too.

Just how did our election system get this screwed up? Well, let’s go on …

Maybe I’m mis-remembering, but I don’t recall that in 2008 presumed superdelegate votes were reported in media as delegate “wins” to the extent they have been in this election. There was a lot of arguing and grumbling about superdelegates, yes, but as I remember the superdelegates tallies were more often kept in the background, separated from the pledged delegate count. And the superdelegate votes changed as the primary wore on, anyway. But in the current primaries, there have been times I’ve had to do quite a bit of searching to find current pledged delegate numbers that did not include superdelegates as part of the tally.

I found this history of Democratic Party superdelegates on the Bill Moyers site yesterday, and it’s very much worth reading. Among other things, it says,

The corporate media’s early inclusion of the superdelegates in the delegate count created the impression of an inevitable Clinton nomination. Seventy-three percent of superdelegates — 520 of the 712 — have pledged their support to the former secretary of state, but superdelegates are free to change their minds any time before the Democratic National Convention in July.

By Feb. 20, when only three states had held nominating contests, such reporting had conferred on the Clinton campaign an aura of insurmountability, leading some voters to question whether their votes truly mattered. Even as Sanders won a string of contests at the end of March to narrow Clinton’s lead, superdelegates in those states stubbornly clung to Clinton. Despite the second-biggest victory ever in a contested New Hampshire Democratic primary, Sanders was credited with the same number of total delegates as Clinton, thanks to superdelegates.

This has rubbed many the wrong way. …

… The attitude of Democratic Party bigwigs hasn’t helped. When a Sanders supporter criticized superdelegate Howard Dean for sticking with Clinton despite Sanders’ landslide victory in Vermont, Dean tweeted back: “Superdelegates don’t ‘represent the people’ … I’ll do what I think is right for the country.”

The author of the superdelegate history, Branko Marcetic, says that the  superdelegates were the creation of a commission that met in 1981 and 1982. Their purpose was to keep the primary process from being unduly influenced by single-issue factions, so that the Dems weren’t stuck with a nominee who didn’t appeal to general election voters. They had Jimmy Carter in mind as such a nominee.

The very democracy of the primary process appears to have made the commission members nervous. They felt they had to give party elites — elected officials and high-ranking party members — a greater hand in choosing candidates, or as Xandra Kayden, a member of the Center for Democratic Policy (now Center for National Policy), put it, the power to “to regain control of the nomination.”

This was partly couched in a belief in elites’ superior judgment. “They bring to the convention a certain political acumen, a certain political antenna,” explained Connecticut state Sen. Dick Schneller, a liberal member of the party. …

… “Our decisions will make the convention more representative of the mainstream of the party,” the commission’s chair, North Carolina Gov. James Hunt, told the press shortly before the commission finished. “We lost a lot of people in the last few years. Our actions should make mainstream Democrats feel better.”

And how did that work out for ya?

The Democrats’ new rules were put to the test during the 1984 election, when Mondale, the superdelegates’ overwhelming choice, received the worst drubbing in the history of the Democratic Party. If the commission’s most important criterion for success was winning, the superdelegate strategy had failed.

It’s often pointed out that the superdelegates have yet to go against popular will, which begs the question why have them at all? By now it should be obvious that if they did ever go against popular will, all hell would break loose.

But the other flaw in this system is that it assumes party insiders really do understand what the “mainstream” wants. Seems to me this election has revealed that the Dems are dealing with two mainstreams, largely separated by age, and the Dem establishment is completely and totally out of touch with the younger mainstream voter.

And from what I’ve read, currently the pivotal number is “50,” which is not that young. The Los Angeles Times reported a few days ago that in California,

Among those under 50, Sanders held a 27-point advantage among all Democratic primary voters and a 21-point edge among likely voters. Among those over 50, Clinton led by 32 points among both groups.

Clinton would have more easily defied Sanders’ onslaught if his inroads among the young had been limited to white voters, as happened in some of the states that voted earlier in the process. But he has expanded his reach in California; his diverse crowds here were reflected in the poll.

Among Latino voters under age 50, Sanders led, 58%-31%, not much different from his 62%-27% lead among younger white voters. The views of other ethnic and racial groups were too small to break out separately by age, but when all younger minority voters were considered, Sanders led, 59%-32%.

On the other side of the age divide, Clinton’s lead was no less impressive. She led by 56%-32% among white voters over 50, 69%-16% among older Latinos and 64%-20% among older minority voters.

The same generational splits apply to men and women, this article says.  And in this primary season the Clinton campaign and the Dem establishment have catered entirely to older voters and dismissed younger ones. See also this.

This is not a smart strategy for building toward the future.

As I’ve written earlier, the party power brokers and insiders had determined Clinton would be the nominee more than a year ago. The only way Sanders or anyone else could have stopped her is by winning a decisively greater number of pledged delegates, and Sanders hasn’t done that. But in winning as she has, Clinton has burned bridges the Dems will have to rebuild in the future if they want to survive as a party.

The Democrats may assume the hard feelings will go away when Clinton wins in November — I expect her to win, anyway. But I don’t think they will. The 29-and-younger voters in particular are being taught that the Democratic Party doesn’t care what they think. These are the up-and-coming liberal voters making up the “emerging Democratic majority” that is supposed to rescue the Democratic Party from Republican dominance. This group has little representation among the superdelegates, apparently.

13 thoughts on “Superdelegates in the Twilight Zone

  1. We’ve already have experienced a preemptive war with George Bush, so why is it so hard to accept a preemptive presumptive nominee with Hillary Clinton.

    I hear Hillary wore a $12,000. Armani jacket while delivering a speech on inequality.. Not that I begrudge her for enjoying the fruits of her labors.. but when I hear numbers like that I really have to wonder if she’s capable of feeling my/our economic pain.
    Maybe it’s just me wallowing in self pity and looking bitterly at the success of others who have worked harder and are smarter than me. Oh, what a wretched soul I am to harbor such wicked thoughts! There’ll be no inheritance in Heaven for me.
    Not to come off as petty and misogynistic…But most of Hillary’s outfits appear to me to be more fitting for a Renaissance festival participant than for normal streetwear.

  2. Sometimes, news organizations DO need to sit on a story. Especially one that can affect turnout in primaries and elections.

    I’m not talking about when the NY Times sat on the W (mis)administration’s spying on Americans for a year after the ’04 election. THAT one needed to be out there right away.

    But what does AP think it’s doing, counting super-delegates as sure things, the day before a whole bunch of states have primaries – including CA, THE most populace state.

    And people ask me why I don’t watch or read the news anymore. THAT is part of it! And the other part, is the entertainment that seems to pop-up in every “news” show. Yes, newspapers always had sections devoted to it, but you didn’t have to read them if you didn’t want to. But with TV, entertainment is baked into every show.
    Sure, I can change the channel, but to what? The other “news”s shows have the same segments are roughly the same time.

    Can these super-delegates leap over buildings?
    Can the fly as fast as airplanes?
    Do bullets bounce off of them?
    Then what’s fucking “super” about them?

  3. maha,
    In all fairness, there are no phone booths around to change into them!

  4. I don’t think I’d mind it too much if Supergirl or Wonder Woman changed in the Men’s Room!

    But, then again, I’m an old lech!

  5. MahaBarbara–

    I’ve read here over and over your comments about how the Democratic Party is not only undemocratic, but also stupid for failing to orient towards the future, which you define as the voting preferences in this year’s primaries of young people. As of this post, you have seemingly redefined “young” to mean anyone younger than 50.

    The thing is, you can slice and dice the voter demographics however you wish, but the fact remains that Hillary Clinton received a lot more votes in primaries than did Bernie Sanders. And facts are stubborn things.

    I guess that I just don’t understand why you keep repeating the statement about the voting preference of young (or “young”) voters, especially in the context of the supposed stupidity of the institutional Democratic Party. Is it you contention that Party officials ought to have some sort of epiphany and just summarily over-rule voters and select Bernie Sanders as presidential nominee? SHould they select him even though he has fewer pledged delegates than Clinton? She’s got about 55%, he’s got about 45%. That seems to be what you’re wishing for.

    I think your disagreement ought to be with the folks who have been voting for Hillary Clinton. They’re the ones who have picked her as the nominee. The only way Sanders can become nominee is if the superdelegates put their collective finger on scale for him.

    • Joel Dan Walls — You have a weirdly short-sighted and blinkered way of looking at the world as well as weak reading comprehension skills. At no point in this post did I hold out any hope that Sanders still has a shot at the nomination. I’m not even writing about the November election here. Try reading this paragraph again (assuming you read it the first time).

      As I’ve written earlier, the party power brokers and insiders had determined Clinton would be the nominee more than a year ago. The only way Sanders or anyone else could have stopped her is by winning a decisively greater number of pledged delegates, and Sanders hasn’t done that. But in winning as she has, Clinton has burned bridges the Dems will have to rebuild in the future if they want to survive as a party.

      I think most of the people who voted for Sanders will eventually decide to vote for Clinton in November, if only because Trump is worse. I also am reasonably confident she’s going to win in November. The fact remains that the generational split in this election (which is, I believe, unprecedented) is something that ought to worry the party elite a lot more than it apparently does. I do not believe this is a passing thing; I think it shows us that younger voters have radically different perspectives and concerns from older ones. But instead of trying to speak to those concerns, Clinton has been nothing but dismissive and condescending toward them. Basically, for the past several months she and the Democratic Party have been screaming for the kids to get off their lawn. So now there’s a generation of younger voters whose introduction to politics taught them that the Democratic Party — not just Clinton, but the entire Party — are a bunch of clueless tight-asses who care more about their own power than about addressing the real needs of the people. Are you actually so obtuse that I have to explain to you why that could hurt the Dems down the road, in future elections?

  6. Joel — I’ll be happy if the platform reflects the 55/45 split. Don’t expect enthusiasm from this over-50-and-thus-not-young person when it inevitably doesn’t though. I and you and the rest of the not-R crew should thank baby Jesus that the Republicans are a wreck this year. I am majorly fucking worried about 2020. The Dems do need the majority of the under-50 folks motivated to vote. And that means not pretending that the economic left are less legitimate than the fucking nutjob right. Quit trying to demoralize them, OK?

  7. JDW – One has to suspect you are being deliberately obtuse. Few here will dispute that HRC will win the primary. The problem I have is how it was rigged. Winning crooked and dirty does not equal fair and square. Your argument is that she won so we should shut up – that won’t happen. The manner that the DNC and Wasserman Schultz arranged the debate schedule was a farce. If you doubt that, watch what favor(s) fall to DWS in early 2017.

    Before you go there, Clinton is preferable to Trump. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to silently and without opposition let Clinton enact policies that I think run contrary to the underlying principles I believe in. Maintaining the status quo for the wealthy who back Clinton and funded her election in anticipation of the rewards they will reap from the public treasury is not OK.

    Many of the character assassinations against the Clintons over the years have been groundless and cruel. That does not make all the accusations false. There seems to be a correlation between foreign countries donating to the Clinton Foundation and those same countries receiving weapons deals while HRC was Secretary of State. And I have no doubt that the purveyors of weapons are among her most staunch contributors.

    I want President Clinton to be receiving fire from the left, from the day she takes office that is scathiing and fact-based. The right can be trusted to oppose everything and says or does. She wants the support of all democrats, but 45% of voters prefer Bernie because they want policies which her corporate allies will oppose. Like getting the money out of politics. I want her to feel political pain for every decision where she rewards her corporate benefactors.

    Since we have two candidates who are brilliant at misdirection, we are certain to have an unofficial cabinet-level minister of propaganda in 2017. President Clinton is certain to point to sincere positions on equal rights for women, and toilet rights for trangender people and rhetoric about immigration reform. Look over there, she will shout, but pay no attention to what I’m doing to protect Wall Street, or the connections with K Street and the love shared with the corporate dealers in death.

    So I’m fine with Clinton over Trump. But she’s got the slime of big money and the stench of dirty politics about her. She doesn’t get a pass for that and the only route to a second term will be to emulate Liz Warren more than Mitch McConnell on the issues with dollar signs attached. Splitting the difference won’t cut it.

    The days of progressive voters getting ‘behind the ticket’ and receiving a few crumbs that fall from the table are over. Clinton got more votes, but the 45% is not giving up – Clinton needs us – she must heed us.

  8. “The fact remains that the generational split in this election (which is, I believe, unprecedented) is something that ought to worry the party elite a lot more than it apparently does.”

    I don’t know about unprecedented, maha.

    The 60’s and 70’s had a lot of generational differences.

    • “The 60’s and 70’s had a lot of generational differences.” Yes, but the focus of that difference wasn’t one of the parties, but the war, which was a bipartisan disaster. I’m talking strictly about presidential politics here. What I’m seeing is a generational split on a host of issues, foreign and domestic, centering on the Dem party itself and where it proposes to take us in the future.

Comments are closed.