The small-D democratic case for Hillary

The pressure is growing on the four Vermont superdelegates to drop Hillary Clinton in favor of Bernie Sanders. Well, the voices of the disaffected are growing louder, anyway. I don’t see any sign of a mass movement.

Nor should I. As I’ve explained before, the superdelegate system is a legitimate expression of a party’s legitimate self-interest. No presidential primary season has ever been a pure reflection of the popular vote; the presidential selection system is governed by the parties because their nomination is a prize that is theirs to bestow.

Superdelegates are people who have served the Democratic Party well and loyally. It’s reasonable to argue that they deserve a voice in the presidential selection process.

Which won’t convince Sanders supporters who believe they’re getting screwed. But let’s put it this way:

… by every possible democratic measure, Clinton is winning. She’s winning in states (and territories) won, which isn’t a meaningful margin of victory anyway. She’s winning in the popular vote by 2.4 million votes — more than a third more than Sanders has in total. In part that’s because Sanders is winning lower-turnout caucuses, but it’s mostly because he’s winning smaller states. And she’s winning with both types of delegates.

That’s from Philip Bump of the Washington Post. And the numbers don’t lie: Hillary Clinton has won 2.4 million more votes than Bernie Sanders. Indeed, if there were no superdelegates at all, and the delegates were apportioned based on the vote, Clinton would still have a substantial lead over Sanders. She would still be the clear favorite to win the nomination.

She is The People’s Choice, f’real.

And it’s a curious thing, considering that Bernie’s claim to legitimacy is that he is leading a new movement that is bringing millions of new participants into Democratic politics. If that’s true, then why does he trail so badly where his supporters say it counts most — in actual votes?

The truth is more like this. Bernie has an enthusiasm edge on Hillary. His supporters are more energized — but they are far fewer in number. And you win elections by, mirabile dictu, attracting more votes than the other folks. Unless he has an astoundingly strong finish, Bernie’s going to finish second. Not only in delegates, not only in superdelegates, but as Mr. Bump put it, “by every possible democratic measure.”

As for those four pesky Vermont superdelegates, they are exercising their party-granted right to cast their votes as they wish. But beyond that, they are actually reflecting the primary results.

Hillary Clinton was shut out of allocated delegates because she failed to reach 15% of the total vote. That 15% is an arbitrary standard. Why should the 14% who voted for Hillary be shut out? (I would argue that the threshold should be the percentage of the vote equaling one delegate — three point something. That way, you don’t wind up with fractions of a delegate.)

If there were no superdelegates, and all Vermont’s delegates were apportioned based on primary votes, AND there was no 15% threshold, HIllary would receive four delegates.

And she’s getting four superdelegates.

It’s a happy accident, but it’s true: the four Hillary superdelegates are representing not only their own consciences, but the 14% of primary voters who opted for Hillary. Let’s hear it for democracy, right?



18 thoughts on “The small-D democratic case for Hillary

  1. Jane Stein

    This is an absurd non-issue. The majority of superdelegates always vote for the winner. That’s who they are and that’s what’s absolutely in their self-interest. Too many people have forgotten. or don’t know, that “her” superdelegates melted away in 2008 when it became clear Obama was going to win. There’s very little in this world that’s as disloyal as a superdelegate. And sorry, boys and girls, but at this point, it’s clear that Bernie isn’t going to win this unless Clinton drops dead.

    Oh, if only the energy of the outrage about superdelegates were put instead into something actually productive,.

  2. Dave Katz

    How about we let The Rest Of The People choose, before we start with the genuflecting? It’s cynically anti-small-d-democratic, apportioning a bundle of extra votes to a collection of “people who have served the Democratic Party well and loyally” in the putative land of one person, one vote.

    Right, and as far as The Democratic Party, with their cutesy superdelelgate hedge against anti-establishment insurgency by the filthy rabble–know this about them, and you’ve nailed it: The. Only. Candidate. They. Could. Find. Was. Hillary. To run against The Howling Vacuum Of Space Between Their Ears Party. Gotta say, that’s a prima facie example of one LOUSY bench. How many languages can you say “intellectually and morally exhausted” in?

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Did I say it was over? No, I did not. I just pointed out that, so far, Hillary’s got a massive edge in popular support. I guess those millions of Hillary voters are deluded or stupid or on the take, or all of the above.

      1. Dave Katz

        It’s a matter of exit polling record that the constituencies that are solidly HRC’s are primarliy the over-45s, which dovetails with the statistics on those Americans a)whose primary source of news is still TV–not, I’m guessing, New Republic or Harper’s or Nation subscribers, or even blog readers, my dear John– and b) who turn out to vote reliably.

        That last bit fails to describe, oh, say 50% of eligible American voters of any age. Are they “deluded, stupid or on the take”, John, or just mistrustful of and stymied by an oligarchic, profoundly anti-democratic electoral and political system? Any wonder why elections are held on Tuesdays?
        “If voting made a difference, it’d be illegal.”: –Emma Goldman

  3. Sue Prent

    About those numbers: “She’s winning in the popular vote by 2.4 million votes”
    This is not an accurate count.
    I’m sure you will concede that caucuses (all of which have gone to Bernie, as I recall) do not count votes. And closed primaries do not permit independents to participate. The majority of Americans self-identify as independents, and among independents, Bernie leads overwhelmingly.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      A few of the caucuses didn’t count their votes. Most of them did. The 2.4 million figure has been vetted by reputable news media. Oh, I forgot: the media are in the tank for Hillary.

      Caucuses do attract much smaller numbers than primaries, and that does handicap Bernie to some extent. However, his relative success in caucuses also proves very little about his ability to attract a broad swath of the electorate. All he needs to win a caucus is a modest number of devoted followers. To win primaries, he needs a whole lot of votes. And more often than not, he has failed to get a whole lot of votes.

      If he wins New York and California and some of the states in between, then he’ll have a better argument. For now, the breadth of his electoral appeal is unproven. The available evidence suggests that it is limited.

  4. RG

    I think that Bernie supports won’t be convinced that they aren’t being “screwed” because as you pointed out, super delegates exist to prevent outsiders like Bernie from getting the nomination. Many voters are realizing this for the first time and mistaking super delegates for a bug in the system rather than a function within the system. Personally, I won’t feel screwed over as a supporter unless super delegates decide the primary in favor of Hillary, which could conceivably happen. Would that be a legitimate protection of self interest by the party?

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Where did I point out that superdelegates exist to prevent outsiders from capturing the nomination? Oh, I guess you implied it from what I actually wrote. But I meant what I said: a party has a legitimate interest in giving its top officials a voice in the process. Nothing more than that.

      I expect this will quickly become academic. It’s almost impossible for Bernie to take the lead in pledged delegates.

  5. RG

    Thanks for responding, quick question: do the parties have a legitimate interest because they are entitled to protect the ideological constraints of the party, who can run under their banner? To prevent a “Trump” candidate if you will? Or is it legitimate because these are private organizations- not formal aspects of our democratic process and therefore not subject to its principles?

    Either way, I doubt anyone would agree that this interest is legitimate from the perspective of democratic values. But I guess primaries aren’t suppose to be purely democratic. If I did my math right, each super-delegate effectively has the voice of roughly 50,000 primary/caucus goers. Absent of some Aristotle-esc critique of democracy, I don’t see how super-delegates can be seen as beneficial to the process. I’m not accusing you of saying that they are beneficial, but I do think you downplay the significance of super-delegates. Why else would they exist if they never make a difference?

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      The parties have a hybrid role. They are responsible to their constituents, the voters; but they exist primarily to advance their own ideology and agenda. There is a value in maintaining organizational strength — or call it party loyalty if you will. That’s why I’m so harsh on Dick Mazza: he is disloyal to his party whenever it suits him. Like slobbering all over Phil Scott whenever he can.

      The superdelegate system is primarily a device to reward senior party members and successful public officials, by giving them a greater say in the nominating process. It’s hard for me to say that folks like Billi Gosh and Pat Leahy don’t deserve special consideration. They are good Democrats who have served the cause with distinction.

      A side effect is that superdelegates make it harder for outsider candidates to win. However, I will say that if Bernie had a clear electoral edge on Hillary — he had more pledged delegates or more popular votes, or could point to solid evidence that he is actually bringing millions of new voters into the process — then I think you’d see the superdelegates start to abandon Hillary. So far, Bernie trails Hillary by every electoral measure, so the supers have been given no reason to change their minds.

      1. Dave Katz

        The evidence appears to support the contention that Senator Sanders is galvanizing previously unengaged citizens who believe the Sanders campaign is giving them a voice in the political process–or at least the perception of that.

        It’s a given that the establishment candidate will successfully harvest the traditional voting demographic whose opinions are formed by what they see on TV and read in Time and Newsweek. The press coverage of Sanders has been quite sparse, if not outright dismissive, until he started winning some contests. Pretty much a closed loop, Tinker to Evers to Chance, that leaves a lot of citizens out. But Bernie’s bringing them to the polls. So there’s that.

      2. RG

        Is this how the system should be though? There is a reason why people are so put off by the two, equally dis-pleasurable choices they have before them. And I think it is because the choices are heavily influenced by two parties who do a poor job at representing the concerns of the people. Super delegates appear to me to be just one of the many tools to achieve this end.

        I would also disagree that Bernie has no clear electoral edge on Hillary. Her approval rating has dropped to an all time low, and the polls have consistently shown Bernie doing better against republican challengers, especially Trump. Sen. Leahy’s defense of his vote (his commitment to Hillary) is a perfect example of why this is not about electoral advantages. Only recently has his team assured Vermonters that his vote will go with the pledged delegates, if it comes down to that.

  6. Sue Prent

    ‘Closed’ primaries, superdelegates, coin-tosses and all the rest are reflections of how undemocratic and arbitrary the two party system is. Somehow, these two ‘clubs’ have been allowed to seize the system, and because they are autonomous unto themselves, they are allowed to make all their own rules too. Anyone who wants to play must join one of the two clubs or be reviled as a spoiler.

    We frown on business monopolies but have surrendered our democracy to a similar scheme.

    We’ve just finally come to the logical conclusion of such exclusivity, with both parties moving to opposite polls and gridlock the result in government.

    There is no possibility of coalition, as there is in the Canadian parliament where several parties successfully participate in the process.

  7. Faith King

    “[T]he presidential selection system is governed by the parties because their nomination is a prize that is theirs to bestow.” Ah, an unshaking reality, a cornerstone of democracy, a Fact of Life. An integral part of our system. Right up there with the Bill of Rights. And apple pie. Except super-delegates have only been around, what, 40 years – give or take. Apparently this notion that the nomination was a “prize” in the possession of the Party apparatus is of young vintage. Narratives are a curious and flimsy contraptions (that’s why they are so easy to see through). You cite the popular vote count as evidence of Clinton’s clear triumph as the “People’s Choice”, while approvingly quoting Bump, who intones that Sanders is ‘mostly winning smaller states’. Another narrative is that Sanders has won 16 states, and the overwhelming support of Democrats Abroad, to Clinton’s 20. Sounds a little different. Oh, but they are small states. According to Bump, the Geographer. Hm. Let’s look at the list: Wisconsin 5.7 million; Washington 7.1 million; Hawaii 1.4 M; Utah 2.9 M; Idaho 1.6M; Michigan 9.9M; Maine 1.3 M; Nebraska 1.8M; Kansas 2.9M; Okla 3.9M (who knew?); Minnesota 5.4M; Colorado 5.4M; New Hampshire 1.3 M. That leaves 3 puny-little-under-a-million-in-population states – Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska. Funny. Maybe I’ve lived in Vermont too long, but those states don’t look so “small” to me. They seem to be all over the country, too. Another, equally plausible narrative might cite Sander’s demonstrated strength with independent voters; Republicans who see no one in their party to vote for; 20-something’s; 40-somethings; women; men; lower income voters; people who identify as working class; people who identify as very liberal or progressive; plenty of people of color; Black intellectuals; Gays; city people; rural people. That narrative might mention that again and again, Sanders scores tops on honesty and trustworthiness. All over the place……..Spin as you might, John, but you can’t shred up the Washington Post and make it into gold. It ain’t happening………

  8. Dave Katz

    Hahahaha! “Lost on the way to the polls”. Good one!
    Judging by the political/social/economic condition of the US right now, you’re absolutely right–somebody got lost, somewhere.


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