The Case for Superdelegates Selecting Sanders


Just like in 2008, it’s coming down to the superdelegates. Barack Obama’s win was secured when two-thirds of the superdelegates decided that he would be the better Democratic candidate for president. In order to serve in their envisioned role as an electoral corrective, the superdelegates should give Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination.

Obama represented “hope and change” on immigration, climate change and health care. Sanders represents the future of the party through bold foreign and domestic policy positions that have brought him ahead or close in national polls. His hark back to FDR-style politics—including investment in infrastructure and people—and his flat rejection of the neoliberal and neocon politics practiced by Hillary Clinton have galvanized the electorate. The Vermont senator polls far ahead of the former secretary of state against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. His candidacy must represent our future.

So say Democrats, including a band of fierce loyalists who have fueled his unbelievable rise—yet with the political, media and corporate establishment support of Clinton, the pledged delegate split is 46% to 54%. So say the young generation who overwhelming support Bernie. So say independents comprising more citizens than either political party, who oppose rampant militarism and unfair trade.

But many superdelegates aren’t yet listening. Back in November, three months before the first vote had been cast, at least 359 of the 712 had already aligned themselves with Clinton versus just eight with Sanders. In October, Clinton’s support was estimated at over 500. The split is now 504 to 40, with the rest undecided. Superdelegates can switch support anytime till the July convention where the nominee will be picked, should neither bow out. Yet the mainstream media has included their support in counts of delegates, greatly misrepresenting results (like in New Hampshire) and implying, for months, that she is close to winning the nomination.

Yes, superdelegates matter that much. At roughly one-third of the votes needed to secure the nomination, they will likely determine the presidential pick. Clinton would need to amass 73% of the remaining pledged delegates for the nomination to be decided without superdelegate support, and Sanders could not win the election without superdelegate support. He would need 70%—4% more than Obama in 2008—of superdelegates to support him to clinch the nomination, should he win half the delegates from now on.
Quick note: (I am assuming 930 remaining pledged delegates and 714 superdelegates per the New York Times this week. This implies a winning margin of 2450 delegates, 68 more than the 2383 often cited.)


These VIPs are a relatively recent creation. In These Times’ excellent investigation draws on National Archives on the Hunt Commission, which created superdelegates in 1982. In brief, party members chose the candidates before 1970, which led to the selection of the pro-Vietnam War candidate Hubert Humphrey, who did not run in any primaries, over antiwar Senator Eugene McCarthy, who won the most primaries. This exploded in the now infamous 1968 protests at the Democratic Convention.

In 1970, the McGovern-Fraser Commission was formed, resulting in new rules that doubled the number of primaries to 35 by 1980. Yet in the interim, Senator George McGovern lost 49 states against Richard Nixon, President Jimmy Carter lost by 10% to Ronald Reagan, and independent affiliation shot up to 42%.

Time for another commission, they concluded. The Hunt Commission decided that the solution was to give power to party elites who could “bring to the convention a certain political acumen, a certain political antenna,” according Connecticut state Senator Dick Schneller. They were also attempting to counteract the 1970 reforms that “led to nominees out of step with the party’s ever-shifting center.” Also, “[a] concern was that primaries, with their lower turnout rates than general elections, could give undue power to single-issue ‘factions.’ This was a standard complaint at the time (and since) [was] that the Democratic Party was coming under the sway of groups devoted to narrowly focused causes, from gun control and environmentalism to feminism and civil rights.”

The new reforms would make the nominee “’more representative of the mainstream of the party,” according to the commission’s chair, North Carolina Governor James Hunt—with the article pointing out that mainstream was potentially code for working-class voters less likely to vote in the primaries.

The rationale seems to be remarkably prescient to Bernie Sanders. First, superdelegates’ “political antenna” should indicate his resonance, since Sanders has run in the primaries despite his populist fundraising, visionary appeal and limited media time (all viewed as serious obstacles).

Second, the “ever-shifting center” of the party is certainly represented by Sanders: Hillary’s rhetoric and positions have consistently shifted toward or flat-out mirrored his.
Third, he’s no single-issue candidate. From war to inequality to banking to campaign finance to environment to trade, Bernie offers a new approach. Hillary—today and past—has not been associated with a compelling progressive or broad Democratic vision. Lastly, the “mainstream” of the party (and independents)—especially the working class—do not favor her. Think what you want about Democratic congressmen, party officials and lobbyists who serve as superdelegates, but the case for their intervention is stronger now than it has ever been.

So how are they voting?

Assuming the two candidates were equally competitive and the process fair, superdelegates would be expected to line up with the citizens of the state who elected them. In fact, Clinton implicitly makes this argument when she speaks of winning the popular vote (which she hasn’t), in a rerun of 2008.

Yet while pledged delegates—akin to the popular vote—have split 54% to 46% for Hillary, the former secretary of state has a full 72% of those who have voiced support in states that have voted, with another 22% remaining undeclared and 5% supporting Sanders.
Excluding undeclared superdelegates, the superdelegates have pledged 39% more support on average than their pledged delegate split. So if the popular vote—as represented by a state’s pledged delegates—was split 50-50, that state would have 89% of their declared superdelegates supporting Clinton.

In all but two of the 48 states and territories (Mississippi and Arkansas), there is a bias toward Clinton. In fact, in the 10 states with the most pledged delegates, declared superdelegates average 40% more support for Clinton than the voters wish. Washington superdelegates choose Clinton with a whopping 73% more than the state’s caucus-goers.
Anger over this undemocratic system has led Maine to require superdelegates to vote according to the overall popular vote starting in 2020, and for its Democratic Party to petition the Democratic National Committee to eliminate the superdelegate system. The Alaska Democratic Convention has approved a resolution to end superdelegate use. Many petitions seek superdelegate voting representative of state elections.
Clinton is clearly the weaker candidate. So, what gives?

Certainly many have connections within the Clintonian orbit that spans think tanks led by former advisors, links to worldwide business leaders and governments aligned with the Clinton Foundation, and ties to various nonprofits. In fact, the majority of superdelegates are candidates for office. The average Senate seat costs over $10 million, with the average House seat coming in at $1.7 million. The DNC helps with campaigning and fundraising. Run by former Clinton 2008 Co-Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, it has made numerous decisions broadly viewed as helping Hillary, while hurting democracy and Sanders. It is doubtful that superdelegates expect it to be neutral in its support for Democratic politicians.

Clinton is also directly a major source of money. She’s cranking up donations from the wealthy and corporations, and her support may include the Koch brothers (perhaps indirectly) and Bush donors. Her joint fundraising committee, the Hillary Victory Fund, was said to be raising funds for 33 state parties despite breaking Democratic precedents including: presidential candidates usually entering agreements with state party committees after winning the nomination; taking full advantage of the McCutcheon vs. FEC Supreme Court decision and a later congressional provision to accept checks of up to $353,400; and accepting money from lobbyists, unlike President Obama.

The fund’s practices, described as laundering, sends donations to the state parties and are then sent 99% back to the DNC, where they could be used to court small donors. Clinton has maxed out nearly 60% of hers versus just 2.3% for Sanders. The Sanders campaign has questioned this practice, and Public Citizen’s Craig Holman called it “offensive” saying “it should be illegal.”

Sanders and Trump have demonstrated the viability of primary campaigns that do not rely on funding by corporations and the wealthy. Thus, Clinton’s practices just seem to underscore a lack of commitment to fixing the top threat to US democracy and the potential for influence of superdelegates.

It’s time to hold superdelegates accountable to American voters and to their duty. Come November, many voters will ask the following questions: Should I vote for a Democratic congressional representative? Are we aligned on the big issues (say climate, trade, guns and our support of Bernie)? And, for president, do I want to vote the “lesser of two evils” or neither?”


As mentioned earlier, the expectation might be that the superdelegates’ votes would mirror their states’ results, were two candidates equally viable and the system fair. But for institutional failures—reflected in a broken media, electoral system failures and think tank mediocrity—Sanders would likely have established a winning margin of at least 10 to 15 points.

Media Bias for Hillary

The establishment, mainstream corporate media have been strongly pro-Hillary. A study by the Tyndall Report found that media outlets gave Clinton as much coverage as Trump in 2015, while Bernie was received one-twenty-third the coverage of either. His numbers have soared when voters learn about him, so the media’s failure to cover Bernie is a major part of the reason he often loses the early vote, yet runs evenly or far better on election days.

But there’s more. As the media has run through the steps of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” Clinton has adopted a sophisticated, unethical media strategy. Hillary and her surrogates (with undisclosed ties) rely on the media promoting her misleading statements, changing the subject at her whim, and highlighting her successes. Her first debate “win” used at least four carefully crafted deceptive or lying answers to allow the media to declare it a “win,” which gave her crucial momentum.

Over time, Clinton and her supporters have deceptively mischaracterized Bernie’s broad movement-based campaign as being just about the banks and his health care plan as causing millions to lose insurance. She championed a minimum wage hike in New York that she has never supported nationally, after husband Bill Clinton’s series of patronizing statements toward a Black Lives Matter protester. Hillary and her supporters almost continually make bizarre assertions. If the issue at hand doesn’t favor her, a new talking point or a shallow policy announcement is all it takes to change the media focus.

It’s important to note that this bias spans the so-called liberal press, with The Washington Post slamming Bernie at an unprecedented pace. The New York Times’ columnists who have spent decades trying to overturn oppressive structures make snarky, misleading statements in almost every op-ed about a politician who is advancing their causes.
What is the effect of this media bias? It’s hard to tell, but it’s easy to imagine a world in
which reporting was fair where Sanders would lead by 10-plus points. Certainly, the media’s heavy coverage gave Trump enormous momentum.

“Establishment” Institutions Failed to Champion Progressive Priorities

This profoundly unethical media establishment behavior has been aggravated by that of establishment institutions: colleges, “left-leaning” think tanks, large nonprofits, the DNC, many Democratic politicians and arts institutions. Together, these institutions have largely failed to illuminate or advocate in a substantive way for progressive priorities, even as their funding from foreign governments, multinational corporations, and hedge fund and private equity managers has skyrocketed.

Clinton often mocks Sanders’ use of the term “establishment.” It’s understandable: These are her funders and allies. And she has been completely in tune with the concerns of those in the Hamptons, at pricey fundraisers and global nonprofit galas. The pain is in the streets and in the stadiums she struggles to fill, while Sanders packs them in like the Stones.
She doesn’t repeat an early line in many Sanders’ speeches: “[T]he top 1/10th of 1 percent have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent” or discuss her funders’ role in turning back the populist achievements of the 20th century.

Her campaign of a year ago was built on positions representing the party’s strong rightward, business-friendly shift, reflecting a neoliberal worldview that champions corporate ideals in a subversive way.

Tom Frank’s Nor a Lender Be addresses the Clinton Foundation, and his Listen, Liberal: Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?—described as the most important book of 2016—addresses the social, political, economic and cultural changes that have allowed everyone from Hillary’s husband Bill Clinton to President Barack Obama to ignore the Democrat’s former working-class constituency.

As per Frank, Democratic politics have become tethered to models of exploitation, insecurity and poverty. Highly touted “innovation” translated to massive deregulation, or the erosion of consumer, worker or environmental rights gained through decades-long fights using models that will lead to us to being day or hour laborers.

Models of the future are ones in which online banked microentrepreneurs conveniently eradicate poverty, even as corporations run cash-cow operations that atomize and outsource jobs. The world has massive resources, with the top 62 people having as much as the bottom 3.5 billion. Adopting and strengthening many old models and technologies—for food, farming, energy, carbon footprints, labor—would often result in a more equitable distribution of resources. But they threaten profits that could be gained through ever-more-predatory capitalism.

Democrats, especially Hillary, who have been in a hug-it-all-out-with-the-corporations mindset make Bernie’s campaign feel revelatory and inspirational. The sustained and convoluted brushing aside of our citizens’ harsh realities—even the media offers fluffy, “reality-based” entertainment—make it so. American institutions have failed to think clearly and big, with hopes the population will follow.

Electoral “Failures”

Large-scale electoral failures and fraud favor Clinton. There are the improbable Iowa coin flips and Bill Clinton’s potential voter violation felony, which may have prevented Sanders’ fifth Super Tuesday win and a stronger media narrative. Arizona, where Sanders won the election day vote, closed many polling places, voters waited many hours, most provisional ballots were discarded, and registrations were flipped to prevent voting.

Weeks later, there was more chaos. In New York, where 125,000 Brooklynites—just miles from Clinton’s Brooklyn office and in Sanders’ hometown—were dropped from the voting rolls in one of the few areas Clinton won. There were more flipped registrations and exit polls that differed from polling results in an extremely unlikely manner (with odds of 1 in 123,000). The reported votes Sanders received even decreased which seems impossible, and thousands of votes are yet to be counted in many states. In Nevada, the State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange passed “draconian new rules via a voice vote as delegates were still trickling in.” She also didn’t allow excluded delegates to explain their case and illegally ended the convention.

Of course, even the electoral structure seems unfair—the lockout of independents, the requirement to change parties sometimes very early, and the inclusion of parties like the American Independent Party in California.

Deceptive Campaign Amplified by the Media

Clinton skirts the line so most statements are deceptive, but not lies. Many promote wrong beliefs about her and Sanders’ records. And she knows the media—big donors to her foundation and campaigns—will rarely call her out on it. Some have compared it to gaslighting, mental abuse by employing twisted and false information.

The slimy strategies have extended to campaign activity and social media: push polling for Hillary and phone calls made from Sanders’ phone banks by her supporters; Hillary trolls taking down most of Sanders’ Facebook pages; And a pro-Clinton SuperPAC spending $1 million to attack Sanders on social media.

Along with her supporters, Hillary plays the gender card: We hear repeatedly of the significance of a woman president, our unredeemable acts or ditsiness if as women if we don’t support her, the naive and uninformed millennials, and how we don’t get the misogyny.

More relevant is the democracy card. What of the failures of our institutions? What of the heavy exploitation and/or benefit from a corrupt fourth estate; election failures at times tied to Democratic leadership supportive of Clinton; and ignorance of progressive policies, Bernie’s candidacy and Clinton’s record? The superdelegates should take these institutional failures into account.


But even more important are Hillary’s prospects. So far, the election has been remarkably clean. However, once one looks at undercover political realities, it becomes clear that Sanders is a far better candidate. Bernie’s supporters have been told throughout the primary that superdelegates should pick the more competitive candidate for the general election, which is also consistent with the Hunt Commission. It seems beyond simple that Sanders should receive the superdelegates’ votes.

This exposé by Abby Martin shows an implicit quid pro quo, with massive exchanges of money and favors, and Clinton’s extraordinarily hawkish behavior. Secretary Clinton would be easy to outskirt her both on the left and the right, and to smear for her lack of integrity and consistency.

Running a Dishonest Democrat With Limited Democratic and Independent Support

A recent NYT/CBS poll found that 32% describe her as “honest and trustworthy.” The election, should Clinton win the nomination, is framed as one between two highly unpopular candidates that will descend into a race to be the less terrible candidate.
It’s not inspiring independents, who comprise an estimated 42% of the electorate—she trails Sanders by 36 points. There goes any potential strength in the reliably Republican states of the American South.

Similarly, Democrats have liked her less as they have gotten to know her, per the improbable erasure of her 50-point lead. Their affinity for honesty and a commitment to the public interest makes her “evolutions” unsuccessful. Hillary’s revolution from within is little consolation to those who need a revolution outside. How can it not get worse in the general election, as Trump rejects Sanders’ clean campaigning for harsh attacks?

She Loses Democratic Votes

Clinton loses many more Sanders voters than he does: An estimated 20-25% of his supporters have said they would not vote for Clinton versus 3% of her supporters.
Sanders’ supporters are looking for a leader who champions systemic change. Their differences are captured in the common memes with Clinton and Kasich as the only two candidates to vote for if you believe “Shit isn’t broken”—with a vote for her for those who believe “women are people.”

In contrast, Sanders has long been fighting the system. A second meme says: “For every mistake America has made in past 30 years you can go and find a video of Bernie Sanders trying to prevent it.” The videos of Bernie denouncing the Panama free trade agreement, filibustering tax cuts for the rich, deriding the misguided focus of the crime bill, and protesting the lack of integrated housing are compelling. Yes, Sanders’ supporters stand for Clinton priorities of equal pay and reproductive access. But so too do they take a hard stand on militarism, corrupt campaign finance, inequality, health care and other issues.

Thinking Small When FDR is In

“I don’t think any Democrat’s ever won saying, ‘We can’t think that big — we ought to really downsize here because it’s not realistic,’” Vice President Joe Biden said on April 21. “C’mon man, this is the Democratic Party! I’m not part of the party that says, ‘Well, we can’t do it.’” Clinton’s strong focus on “realism” and against Trump is shocking. “Hope and change” may have become more platitude than plan, but tapping into a sense of possibility is key to progressive politics.

Interestingly enough, Clinton has endorsed rapid change when it benefits corporations—for example, on war and trade—even while she urges caution in implementing government programs to help the American population. It’s pragmatism for government and the people, pedal to the metal for corporations. But why should only corporations be able to think big?
Hillary Clinton has sought a more populist tone, even kicking off her campaign on Roosevelt Island. However, she is not the New Dealer’s heir apparent. With her embrace of globalization and strong ties to corporates, she represents the policies that shifted power to corporations and left the vast majority of Americans served by predatory corporations and banks, with little financial cushion. That attitude, and an unconvincing swerve toward Sanders-endorsed policies that would hurt her long-time, significant donors, limits her appeal.

Polling Worse Against Trump and For Democrats

While there has been a concerted campaign by Clinton indicating she is more electable[AHS7] , this is not necessarily the case. Polling data indicated Sanders beats Trump by 11 points but Clinton wins by just 1 point, averaging the last six polls. In fact, the shifting of polls recently to show that she actually loses at times seems to be a replay of the start of the Sanders-Clinton primary before her poll numbers plummeted. So too have her coattails shortened. A stronger Sanders performance has potentially huge implications for downstream candidates.

Secrets and Possible Crimes Could Change the General

Every day, people everywhere ask questions about Hillary Clinton that no one should ask about a presidential candidate. Is today the day she’ll get indicted for her email activity? If she does get indicted, presumably for violating the Espionage Act (ironically used heavily and unfairly by the Obama administration with little criticism from her), how will it affect her polling? What if she’s not indicted but the material leaks out? What’s in her emails? Is it worse than what’s in those speeches to Goldman Sachs? How have contributions to the Clinton Foundation affected arms deals, militarism, climate and energy policy and oppressive policies? Things virtually ignored by Sanders will be fair game in the general election. In fact, his clean campaigning may well be leaving Clinton untested and weaker, should she win the nomination.

No Record to Run On

A common meme shows Sanders as having far more political experience. In particular, Clinton’s legislative accomplishments as senator were unimpressive, while “Amendment King” Sanders left a lasting and substantial legislative record—though the story was irrationally changed by The New York Times. Clinton has very little to show for her time as secretary of state (she shies away from Honduras, “Hillary’s War” in Libya, her promotion of fracking abroad, etc.) and as head of the Clinton Foundation. Her new plan to appoint NAFTA-signing, Glass Steagall repealing husband Bill as some unelected jobs czar is less than inspiring.

Today’s Thinkers and Activists Oppose Her

The great raft of intellectuals, writers and activists deeply devoted to social justice—largely permanent outsiders uninterested in an administration job—overwhelmingly favor Sanders. Sure, the revolving door types who architected and championed unfettered globalization, free trade and so on favor Clinton. But we now need people of integrity to guide us as we cast off our current predatory models.

What do these leaders say—those who shone a spotlight on corruption, warned us of systemic oppression and pointed us in a better direction? The vast majority support Sanders. All have concerns about a Hillary presidency including The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander; MacArthur genius award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates; The End of Poverty author Jeffrey Sachs; documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Chi-Raq director Spike Lee; political dissident Noam Chomsky; actress and activist Rosario Dawson; former State Senator Nina Turner; inequality expert Les Leopold; Professor Cornel West; former NAACP President Ben Jealous; civil rights activist Harry Belafonte; Capital in the 21st Century author Tom Piketty; long-time whistleblower Sy Hersh; What’s the Matter with Kansas? author Tom Frank; and pioneering feminist bell hooks.

These people who often speak unpleasant truths to power offered us prescient warnings we should have heeded and wise counsel we should have followed. They still offer a strong vision for a just society—one free of racism, militarism, poverty (and sexism) at the heart of our most important movements.

It would be a mistake to assume while the battle is being waged for the Republican Party that there is not a fierce fight for the soul of the Democrats. It’s being waged over the party and convention leadership; the means of fundraising; the priorities up and down the ticket; the platform; the behavior that we tolerate; the meaning of democracy and how it applies to politicians and institutions; and the direction of America.

One can choose to cast away a politician embraced by millennials and independents, with fiercely loyal Democratic supporters, who has been approved by great thinkers. One can discard an uncharacteristically bold senator who has been screwed by a rigged system and sophisticated techniques of manipulation. Yet such a tremendously harmful act would aggravate the risk of a Trump presidency.

The fate of America lies with those who have not yet voted, who remain politically active and with the superdelegates. Ultimately, it’s the last who could be decisive. They should endorse now to help the Democrats regain the presidency and their leadership role. They should listen to “political antenna,” follow the “ever-shifting center” of the party and electorate, and endorse a broad vision that appealing to the “mainstream.” Such a pragmatic choice would also advance higher human ideals of freedom, truth, peace, justice and opportunity.

It’s time to bring the newly energized electorate to the polls and to see the powerful vision of superdelegates come to fruition.


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Veena Trehan writes on policy and the responsibilities of politicians and institutions. She has written for Reuters, Bloomberg News and NPR. Trehan is an active citizen with a passion for issues including inequality and human rights, environmental justice, and the safety of women on college campuses. Before her career in journalism, she worked in government consulting and information technology. Trehan studied Electrical Engineering at MIT and did a Master’s in Journalism on a Reuters Fellowship.