This Is a Blog: Numbers Time: Superdelegates

Monday, May 2, 2016

Numbers Time: Superdelegates

Bernie Sanders himself has decided to chime in on my series "Shit People Actually Believe." In a press conference, here covered by the New York Times, Bernie talks about the fairness of Superdelegates. He makes some good points. In states where he wins in a landslide, Superdelegates should take that into account when they decide whom to vote for. If the idea in our country is to give people the biggest voice possible, Superdelegates would be the antithesis to that. They only prove the point when they totally ignore state-wide election results.

Where Bernie loses me, however, is when he equates Superdelegates to some possibility of a contested convention. I've already covered how that's not going to happen, but this press conference confuses me even further. His whole point is Superdelegates should reflect the will of the people, so I don't understand how a contested convention would even make sense.

I've pointed out before that Hillary is ahead in pledged delegates, popular vote, and Superdelegates, but if we're going to discuss this on Bernie's terms, we need to add in that she has also won more contests than him, 25 to 18.

From here on in, I want to make it clear that I agree that given that Bernie has won about 43% of the popular vote, he should have more than 41 of the 539 Superdelegates that have already declared. What he's saying about how unfair and undemocratic Superdelegates are is true. This isn't one person, one vote. This is 715 people who get more of a say than everyone else.

What I'm talking about is the basic leap in logic going on here. It's one thing to say Bernie will somehow flip Superdelegates, and that will somehow not be wildly undemocratic. It's another thing to explain exactly how that works.

In the fairness model, three ideas for allocation make sense: based on popular vote, based on pledged delegate count, or based on state wins (like the electoral college)

Model 1

Bernie has 42.6% of the popular vote, so as of right now, Bernie should have 42.6% of the Superdelegates, or 229. If that doesn't change, Bernie should get 304 of the 715 total Superdelegates. Even at his best, Bernie is still probably going to come into the convention about 150 pledged delegates down. To overcome that, he'd need 151 MORE Superdelegates than Hillary. That means he needs 433 Superdelegates. Put another way, Bernie would need 129 Superdelegates more than he even he would say is fair in order to win the nomination.

Model 2

Bernie only holds 29.3% of pledged delegates. That's because many states allocate delegates in a way that gives a bonus of delegates to the winner of the contest. It may be hard to see based on this model, given the relative few number of states Bernie has won, but these rules have helped Bernie more than they've hurt him. His inflated delegate counts in some of his wins are keeping him competitive. Based on this model, Bernie gets 29.3% of the Superdelegates, or 157, and 209 of the total 715.

Given the disparity between popular vote and pledged delegates, perhaps that's the argument Bernie should be making, that Superdelegates need to be evening this out a bit. Even assuming the percentage of popular vote is fair, this is a pitch he needs to make to about 400 Superdelegates.

Model 3

Bernie says if he wins by a landslide, he should get more Superdelegates. First off, he's referring to states like Vermont and Alaska, which only account for 10 and 4 Superdelegates respectively. The absolute most he's talking about 17 Superdelegates in Washington or Michigan. If Bernie were entitled to 100% of Superdelegates in all his wins, that also means Hillary is entitled to all the Superdelegates in all the states she'd win. That means he'd still only have 147.

Let's go with the Bernie model, and say all Superdelegates should be allocated fairly, but if you win by a landslide, you get all the Superdelegates. Bernie pointed to a 70% win as a landslide. So there's our threshold. Above 70% is a winner take all landslide, and below that should be proportional. After applying that to every contest thus far, Bernie would get 245 Superdelegates, but Hillary would get 276. Given that right now, I'm insisting we ignore Superdelegates completely, I think it works against Bernie for him to insist we discuss a whole other avenue where Hillary is ahead by an additional +31.


So yes, Bernie is right. Superdelegates are bullshit. He should have about 200 more than he does. Considering that when it comes time to decide the nominee, Superdelegates look at the pledged delegate results and change if they need to, they're also basically irrelevant. They're only 15% of total delegates, and on the surface, it's scary to think the party has a system in place to override the will of the people. However, if Trump were winning the Democratic nomination, I'd be begging Superdelegates to override the pledged delegate results.

Most importantly, Superdelegates will absolutely not have an impact on this race. Hillary's lead is too substantial, and they are overwhelmingly in her court. He talks about the huge mountain he needs to climb, but why? At this point, his best case scenario is spitting in the face of the voters. Now, if you support Bernie, you might be thinking these people voting for Hillary are idiots, and they need to be stopped. And that's fine. But then you can't turn around and say the system isn't democratic enough.

I'm all for fighting to the bitter end, but this fight seems pretty un-Bernie.

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