Bernie Sanders won the Wyoming caucuses on Saturday in a dominating fashion, clinching his eighth win out of the last nine contests, and solidifying his status as the candidate with the momentum. The problem: None of it has mattered. For all the talk about a populist revolution that focuses on the needs and wants of everyday people, the Democrat’s delegate system ensures that their votes are ignored.
The problem is the notion of a “superdelegate,” which unlike pledged delegates are free to ignore the will of the voters and pick whichever candidate they want. What gives them this amazingly undemocratic authority? Simple: They’re the party elite. The ranks of super delegates are populated by major elected officials (such as leaders from each state’s Democratic party), notable party figures (such as former presidents) and selected leaders of organizations affiliated with the Democratic National Committee (such as Louis Elrod of Young Democrats of America).
Somehow, at the very same time that Democrat voters are uniting behind the idea of taking down the nation’s elite, the party’s elite have the most political sway. Of course, that’s not some peculiar coincidence, it’s the exact reason that superdelegates came to exist in the first place.
The super delegate system dates back to the 1980s following the party’s nomination of George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Both of those nominees were wildly popular with the party’s base—they were progressive reforms with big ideas, but shallow wallets and few connections—and yet went on to suffer enormous defeats at the hands of the Republican nominees. Standing on principle was something that Democrat kingmakers just couldn’t stand, not necessarily because it was a losing political strategy, but because even if the candidate one, they were tough to control.
Rather than learn to play the game better, the party’s elite simply changed the rules to rig it in their favor. The new rules allowed for superdelegates, a mechanism that would naturally deter the nomination of insurgent candidates of whom the establishment disapproved. Sadly, for Bernie Sanders, that’s exactly the category he falls into.
This year, before a single primary vote had been cast, more than half of all the super delegates (359) had already committed to supporting Clinton, according to reporting from the Associated Press. Sanders received the support of just eight. In some ways, the race was already over before it even began (literally), calling into question the power of voters to choose the candidate they wanted rather than the candidate that elites felt could win.
Sanders’ super-delegate problem has only gotten worse from there. As of now, 469 superdelegates have announced their intention to support Clinton, while a measly 31 said they plan to back Sanders. That means that even though Clinton has won just 55.5 percent of the pledged delegates awarded via primary or caucus, she’s 73.4 percent toward the delegate threshold needed for the nomination. In short, if superdelegates maintain their allegiance, which is likely but not certain, then Sanders’ chance for a comeback is somewhere between slim and none. But if superdelegates did not exist, then this race would be a tossup.
Sanders and his supporters are rightly upset. The populist wave they are riding is breaking along the rocks of the establishment they hoped to overcome, and there is simply nothing they can do about it. Even worse, despite the upswell of concern about the role of moneyed interests, Clinton is essentially acting as a big donor to superdelegates, many of whom are elected officials with races to win. Jake Miller writes for PolicyMic:
A 2008 investigation showed both Clinton and Obama gave substantial amounts of money to superdelegates, and that 82% of superdelegates who had endorsed by February 25 of that year voted for the candidate who had given the most money toward their campaign. This year, there will be more money given to superdelegates than ever before. The DNC recently removed the ban on lobbyists and PACs donating to campaigns. This opens the floodgates for organizations in support of candidates to donate to superdelegates.
“At its (the superdelegate system’s) root, it’s heavily influenced by money in politics,” Josh Silver, founder of Represent.Us, told Mic. “Superdelegates skew heavily towards party apparatus players and lobbyists.”
With the ban lifted, a pro-Clinton super PAC has begun donating large amounts of money to state leaders. The Hillary Victory Fund has given $2.9 million to state committees, Bloomberg reported, including $124,000 to New Hampshire, where all of the superdelegates pledged support to her, despite Sanders winning the state by a substantial margin.
Between this superdelegate nonsense and the DNC’s brazen attempt to limit debates, both of which are designed to thwart the will of voters, it may be time for Democrats to consider changing the party name. After all, this is about as far from democracy as you can get.