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.

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