clock menu more-arrow no yes

What are Democratic superdelegates? A cartoon explainer.

Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary by 20 percentage points, but it's possible Hillary Clinton will pick up more delegates in the state. How can that be?

In short, delegate math is weird. The graphic above explains this in a few simple steps, but the two-point explanation is this:

  1. For Democrats, about 85 percent of delegates are bound by how people vote in the primaries.
  2. The other 15 percent (superdelegates) can choose whomever they want at the convention, where the party nominates a candidate.

(Republicans also have delegates who aren't bound to primary results, but that's for another post.)

So in New Hampshire, Sanders won 15 of the 24 regular delegates. But even before that contest, six of the state's eight superdelegates had said they planned to support Clinton (the other two have remained mum). Superdelegates tend to reveal whom they favor early in the process, often before the primary election in their state, so that's how we have a good idea of what the delegate count is. They can, however, change their minds up until the convention.

If it seems unfair that such a small group has an outsize impact, then the history of how candidates used to be nominated will seem even more unfair. In short, up until very recently it was party bosses who decided their nominee — sometimes against the will of the people. This great video from my colleague Liz Scheltens explains why the 1968 election helped voters gain more influence in the nominations: