The Democratic Party’s Illusion of Democracy

As the Democratic Party presidential nomination race progresses, many people are getting an education on the behind-the-scenes business of electing a president and the role played by superdelegates. We now know (if we didn’t already) that a small group of 796 officials and party leaders control about 20 percent of the power to choose the Democratic candidate. The millions of Democratic Party members weathering the snow, rain, and after-work races to the polls “control” the remaining 80 percent.

Speaking on “The Diane Rehm Show,” political consultant Tad De- vine maintained that superdelegates weren’t meant to infringe on the Democratic process of choosing a presidential candidate, they’re meant to offer a peer review aspect to the democratic process (“The Democratic Convention,” February 11, 2008).

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Devine writes that Democrats created superdelegates after the 1980 election so that party leaders would be better represented at the convention (“Superdelegates, Back Off,” February 10, 2008): “Many party leaders felt that the delegates would actually be more representative of all Democratic voters if we had more elected officials on the convention floor to offset the more liberal impulses of party activists.” How exactly Devine defines “more liberal impulses,” he doesn’t say.

Superdelegates were also created, writes Devine, to “provide unity at the nominating convention.” He urges superdelegates to refrain from pledging their support for either Clinton or Obama before, as he writes, “the voters have had their say.” While it’s nice of Devine to urge superdelegates to refrain from picking the Democrat’s presidential nominee before the people have the chance to vote, he falls short of urging the party to make changes that bar superdelegates from pledging support. One must ask, “If the voters get it ‘wrong,’ will Devine and other so-called voices of reason urge party bosses to lead the ignorant masses to the correct trough?” His answer: “After listening to the voters, the superdelegates can do what the Democratic Party’s rules originally envisioned. They can ratify the results of the primaries and caucuses in all 50 states by moving as a bloc toward the candidate who has proved to be the strongest in the contest that matters….”

According to one estimate, superdelegates comprise 0.000007 percent of the voting population, but about 20 percent of the power to choose the Democratic nominee. Consider that the nearly 4 million voters in California are represented by 350 delegates and that the more than 400,000 voters in South Carolina have their choice represented by only 37 delegates. In total, four and a half million voters are represented by less than 500 delegates. Whom do superdelegates represent? Themselves.

It’s time for many Americans to realize that the democracy they’ve believed in is a fairy tale. 


Jeff Nall is a community activist and freelance writer. He has contributed to publications such as: the Humanist, Toward Freedom, and Impact Press.