It’s only a few months into primary season, and while Bernie Sanders has clinched more primary victories thus far, Hillary Clinton is projected to be in front of the Vermont governor at 500 to 70 delegates.
It’s all thanks to the party’s superdelegate votes.
Some Sanders supporters have taken to online petitions calling on Democratic Party superdelegates to support the candidate who wins the popular vote at the party’s convention this summer, but history shows the Sanders camp shouldn’t worry about superdelegates, says San Jose State University political scientist, Melinda Jackson.
“It usually doesn't end up coming down to the superdelegates being the deciding factor,” she said.
Kathy Sullivan, a superdelegate and former New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair, echoed that point in a recent op-ed for the New Hampshire Union Leader.
“The superdelegates have never been deciding votes in the nominating process,” she wrote. “Our goal is to elect Democrats to office; nothing more, nothing less.”
So what is a superdelegate anyway?
Technically, superdelegates are delegates that are unpledged, or unbound to the popular vote in their state.
This year, Democrats have 712 superdelegates, or about 15 percent of all delegates.
Typically, they’re Democratic members of Congress, sitting governors, former governors, state and national party leaders, as well as VIP members, like former presidents.
“The superdelegates get to choose which candidate to support, and they can change their mind,” says Melinda Jackson. “So they’re unpledged up to the point of the convention.”
That means that while many superdelegates have pledged support for Clinton for now, they can change their vote if it’s out of tune with what voters decide in the coming months.
“The superdelegates really are there to allow the party to put their thumb on the scale at the end of the day, and to influence the party establishment will about who the candidate should be,” Jackson said.
When it comes to pledged delegates, Clinton and Sanders are neck in neck at 52 to 51.
Sanders himself is a superdelegate who will likely cast a vote at the convention this summer, as is former President Bill Clinton.