The Charlotte Observer (NC): Democratic Party's process undemocratic
Superdelegates, who will decide race, don't reflect nation's populace
GIBBS KNOTTS CHRISTOPHER COOPER JEWEL COUNTS
Until this year, most of us thought we understood the Democratic Party's nomination process. Most believed that citizens cast votes in primaries and caucuses, and these votes are then counted and translated into delegates. Seems simple enough. As many Americans are now finding out for the first time, however, it's not that easy.
In addition to the process described above, the Democratic Party has a group of people they call "superdelegates" who make up 40 percent of the delegates needed to win the nomination. These individuals are receiving a lot of attention these days. Five months into 2008, the New York Times has used the word "superdelegate" 25 more times than in all of 1984. Why are these individuals suddenly so important?
Although the makeup of superdelegates was never intended to be representative of the general population, a close look portrays an elite group unreflective of the populace. The 2008 superdelegates are members of the Democratic National Committee, governors, members of Congress and a variety of former elected officials. According to our analysis, DNC members make up 54 percent of superdelegates, governors 4 percent, U.S. senators 6 percent, U.S. representatives 30 percent, former party leaders 3 percent, and add-ons 4 percent.
In a political system where states matter, we were surprised to find the disproportionate influence of certain states and territories.
For example, the District of Columbia , with a population smaller than all states but Wyoming , has 24 superdelegates. This is one superdelegate for every 24,000 D.C. residents, as compared to a ratio of 1:521,000 in North Carolina . Puerto Rico has eight superdelegates, more than the number of superdelegates in seven states. At least at the state level, there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to the allocation of superdelegates.
Women also are underrepresented as superdelegates. Nearly two-thirds of superdelegates are men. This is troubling for a party supposedly concerned with gender equity. The gender balance is particularly stark among superdelegates labeled as party leaders -- an astonishing 95 percent of whom are male. Although superdelegates were never intended to be representative, it is striking just how unrepresentative they look.The numbers are changing almost daily, but as of mid-May, 73 percent of superdelegates had committed to a candidate and 27 percent had not. A higher percentage of women superdelegates had committed -- 77 percent, compared to 71 percent of men.
Are elected officials less likely to commit to one candidate or the other? We discovered that 74 percent of elected officials and 72 percent of non-elected officials committed to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Among these elected officials, 67 percent of U.S. senators, 75 percent of representatives and 81 percent of governors have committed.
The larger number of uncommitted Senate superdelegates could be because Obama and Clinton both serve in the body, or because they view themselves as national leaders who should remain impartial.
How about those who have committed one way or another? Not surprisingly, we discovered that women are more likely to vote for Clinton -- 58 percent of women superdelegates support Clinton , compared to 44 percent of men. Political commentators frequently discuss the gender gap in the electorate -- these data suggest we should also turn our attention to the gender gap among superdelegates.
More senators for Obama
Since the U.S. Senate is a bastion of the political establishment, we expected a greater number of senators to support Clinton . Not only has Clinton spent more time in the Senate, her husband worked with members of this body during his eight years in the White House. Interestingly, we found more support for Obama among Democratic senators -- 56 percent of senators favor Obama compared to 44 percent for Clinton .
Many may wonder if superdelegates vote with their states. It appears the answer is yes. For every percentage point Obama wins in the popular vote, he gains .84 percent of the superdelegates in that state. This would be good news for democracy, were it not for the vastly disproportionate numbers of superdelegates across the states. For instance, superdelegates from the District of Columbia may follow the will of local opinion, but because D.C. is overrepresented, our nation's capital has much more influence than it should.
In the end, it is important that voters have a deeper understanding of this odd form of electing leaders. It reveals some disturbing trends about a party that purports to stand for equality and due process. The Democratic Party can do better.
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