The odds that Hillary Clinton wins the nomination on the backs of superdelegates are extremely low

Bernie Sanders got sixty percent of the votes in the New Hampshire primary, and he got about that percentage of the state’s delegates — 15 to Clinton’s 9.

But it wouldn’t quite be accurate to say that Sanders completely “won” New Hampshire. When you factor in the six superdelegates from New Hampshire who are currently pledged to Clinton, they’re tied 15-15.

If that seems undemocratic, it’s because it is. The Democratic Party (and not the Republican Party) awards extra delegates for Democratic party elders, Democratic members of Congress, Democratic governors and elected members of the Democratic National Committee. There are 712 superdelegates in total, and they can each pledge their support to whomever they please. There are 4,051 regular, or “hard” delegates awarded on the basis of electoral performance. Taken together, that’s 4,763 total delegates, with 2,382 needed to win the nomination and superdelegates making up roughly 16 percent of the total.

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

majority of superdelegates have already pledged to Hillary Clinton — including (go figure) Bill Clinton, who is a superdelegate because he is a former president. She’s currently claiming support from over 360 pledged superdelegates means that she could be nearly 20 percent of the way toward locking up the nomination already with only two (small) states having held their nominating contests.

If Clinton’s current share of superdelegates holds for the rest of the uncommitted superdelegates, she could wind up as many as 685 superdelegates, which would leave Sanders with 27. In this scenario, Sanders would need to win 2,355 of the 4,051 regular delegates (58%) in order to win the nomination. Even if Clinton doesn’t pick up any more superdelegates, Sanders still needs to win 54% of the remaining delegates in order to win the nomination. In other words, it isn’t hard to imagine Sanders winning the popular vote — fairly convincingly — and still losing to Clinton.

However, this scenario is almost certainly not going to play out for two simple reasons — one undemocratic and one democratic.

Superdelegates are allowed to switch sides

If Bernie Sanders’s political revolution really does come, and he is able to translate his success in New Hampshire to other states that aren’t quite as liberal and aren’t quite as white, then he will almost certainly wind up with a more than 24 superdelegates. If Sanders emerges as the clear choice of the Democratic electorate, he will win a greater share of currently unpledged superdelegates, and a number of superdelegates who are currently pledged to Clinton will defect to him.

As it happens, members of the party establishment don’t necessarily endorse members of the establishment; they usually endorse candidates they think will win. If it looks like Sanders is going to win, he will attract endorsements from the same superdelegates who Sanders’s supporters are currently worried could throw the election for Clinton. As NBC’s First Read wrote this morning:

If Sanders does win a majority of the bound delegates, there will be ENORMOUS pressure on the supers to back him. And that pressure could likely lead to many elected supers — perhaps worried about a future Dem primary — to suddenly get cold feet on Clinton and simply promise to support the Dem who wins their district or state.

All this is to say that it is highly unlikely that Clinton wins the nomination without having also won a majority of regular delegates.

Clinton is still the favorite

The real reason why the scenario where Sanders wins the popular vote and loses the primary is so implausible doesn’t have anything to do with superdelegates. It has everything to do with the fact that he is still a massive underdog in the race.

Only two states have voted thus far, and they’re states that Sanders was expected to do well in. Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats are whiter and, more importantly, farther to the left on economic issues than Democrats in the rest of the country — Sanders is very white and very much to the left of his opponent on economic issues. This is why FiveThirtyEight was saying as early as last July that Sanders could win Iowa and New Hampshire, only to lose practically everywhere else.

This being the case, worrying about superdelegates at this point is simply premature. Hillary Clinton may not be inevitable anymore, but she is still the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination — without needing superdelegates to push her over the top.

If Sanders wins or comes close to winning in Nevada or South Carolina, then we’ll talk.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Indy

    Listen to the whiny turds, Pick’en at a frozen bird.

  • ben kenobi

    the list goes on and on.

  • alicewonders

    Does not make her any less of a crook . . . follow the money

  • HoratioCaine

    hey dipsy doodle. we know that you’re a Clinton basher. it’s what you do.

  • HoratioCaine

    the odds of the idiot that wrote this claptrap being right are approaching ZERO. people are getting really sick of the cranky old man with no means to implement any plan and his disgusting Bernie bots.

  • sford713

    Democrats acting like Republicans by eating their own in threads like this, aren’t doing the party or progressives in general any favors.

  • disqus_ivMg9KtZVU

    Bernie gets to vote for himself. It’s even 1 to 1.

  • DoverBill

    Ya think the republicians wished that they had somethin akin to it?

  • timncguy

    correct, which is why I suggested a change in the terms used in the post to make it more accurate.

  • Arthur

    Actually, the reason Obama beat Hillary in the 2008 primary despite not winning the “popular vote” was because he actually cleaned house by staggering amounts in almost all the caucus states, which aren’t included in the total vote numbers. What happened in Nevada is remarkable, but extremely rare, and he didn’t win by much. Meanwhile Hillary’s popular vote percentage over Obama was extremely slim. Superdelegates did eventually switch to Obama’s side even though Hillary started with more because after all was said and done, Obama had more states and pledged delegates.

  • Fukmai Naim

    “If Sanders does win a majority of the bound delegates, there will be ENORMOUS pressure on the supers to back him. ”

    who are they representation of not the people?
    enormous pressure?
    they should be forced into a legal obligation to do as the people command. that is the only job they have. voting otherwise is pure treason

  • timncguy

    well, now you need to go get some better information about the “coin flips”. Those coin flips were used to select delegates to “county” level conventions. They have nothing to do with the number of delegates that are going to attend the state level convention or the national convention. There were a total of 6 coin flips that were used to select 6 county level delegates out of a total of more than 14,000 county level delegates. Those 6 coin flips make no difference at all

  • Ace Cherry

    right here. Shillary is a filthy Zionist imperialist drug war supporting wall street whore sociopathic antiquated tyrant

  • Ace Cherry

    i would write in ronald mcdonald sooner than clinton

  • Ace Cherry

    http://www.factcheck.org/2008/06/clinton-and-the-popular-vote/

    more of her “coin flip” bs type politics.

    i was wrong; you are correct in reference to the delegates. i was thinking of the super delegates.

  • timncguy

    look it up Ace. For example, she won the popular vote in the NV primary but, because of the way delegates were proportioned Obama got more delegates from NV. I’m not talking about the super delegate. Obama got more PLEDGED delegates than Clinton. But, Clinton got more popular votes than Obama

  • Ace Cherry

    .. no.
    the delegates changed their votes to obama when he was destroying hillary; and the public was flocking to him. … she did not win the popular vote. the delegates dont get to pick who they want lol

  • Ace Cherry

    the only group that thinks bernie can’t win ( and they know he can) are Shillarys paid propaganda trolls. i have never seen such public hate on a political official such as her . she is really not liked.

  • Ace Cherry

    the favorite of who?
    wall street?
    the prison industry?
    israel?
    the military?

    DUHHHHHH go back to bed

  • Ace Cherry

    “including (go figure) Bill Clinton, who is a superdelegate because he is a former president. ”

    ….. why is that legal?
    how dumb were the democrats to EVER allow this bs system to be established?

  • steve hall
  • WarrenHart

    By saying the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz should start treating both candidates equally I guess you mean when the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz start campaigning for Bernie Sanders? lol yes.

  • WarrenHart

    Well that’s more than Bernie could ever get done in 20 years.

  • nero88888

    Clinton is still the favorite. 100% FACT

    http://predictwise.com/politics/2016-president-democratic-nomination

    Hillary 83%

    Bernie the DINO 17%

    http://www.cnn.com/election/primaries/parties/democrat

    Hillary 431 delegates

    Bernie the DINO 52 delegates

    Bernie is TOAST. #feelthebernout

  • Opinionated Cat Lover

    Yes, I keep hearing about these Bernie Sanders voters who refuse to vote for that evil Hillary, but every time I actually TALK to a Sanders voter, they say the same thing you do. “I want Sanders, but I’ll take Clinton over anything the GOP has.” It’s almost like the mythical anti-Hillary voter just doesn’t exist, which makes me wonder…

    Then I remember Operation Chaos in 2008…..and the wondering ceases. ;)

  • FLL

    I was only considering delegate numbers rather than psychological effect or spin. I’m just saying that by March 1, people will have a much better idea of whether or not Bernie can win outside New England, or even outside northern New England. That remains a valid question because he did not win the Iowa caucus.

  • A_N

    I’m not so sure. I believe that there are at least SOME supporters of Bernie (like me) who hate the policies of the Republicans so much that in a general election, we would vote for Hillary as the lesser of the two evils.

    Don’t misunderstand, I am an ardent supporter of Bernie and have given him quite a bit in donations and i really, REALLY want Bernie as the next president. It’s just that Hillary is far less BAD then any of the Republicans running for president

  • timncguy

    would 40% in NV be considered close for Sanders when 39% for Clinton in NH was considered a HUGE loss?

  • FLL

    “This is why FiveThirtyEight was saying as early as last July that Sanders could win Iowa and New Hampshire, only to lose practically everywhere else.”

    That assessment on FiveThirtyEight was accurate in July, but I think the dynamics are more in flux at the moment, and will be at least until March 1 (Super Tuesday). Many Sanders supporters might still be wondering why Bernie didn’t flat-out win the Iowa caucus, which was tailor-made for a Sanders victory (and which Obama won handily in 2008). In any case, New Hampshire might have been the boost that Sanders needs to start winning elsewhere. I think there is still a possibility that Sanders wins Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts and, of course, Vermont, as well as coming close (40%?) in Nevada. That would give him a shot at the nomination. If he can only win in northern New England—and loses in not-so-white southern New England and everywhere else—then Bernie will lose.

  • timncguy

    You should probably change the term “popular vote” to “pledged delegates”. As you may recall, in the 2008 primary Clinton won the “popular vote”, Obama won the “pledged delegate” vote and Obama then won the super delegate vote.

  • 2karmanot

    Hillary = another 8 years of No Hope and No Change. Maybe she’ll cluster bomb North Korea and so take our minds off her Obozo Incremental plans.

  • kladinvt

    Tell it to the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who have created the impression that the Democratic primaries have been rigged. If that impression prevails and Hillary is forced on us, it’s doubtful that Bernie supporters will just line up behind her, no matter how many “fear-tactics” are used to get us to support her. The DNC better start treating both candidates, equally and fairly or this is going to be a mess, to rival what’s happening on the republiCON side.

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