Now that Hillary Clinton has prevailed in 20 Democratic primaries and caucuses, leaving her with a sizable lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the overall delegate count, more and more controversy has begun to percolate over the party’s superdelegate system. The Sanders campaign has questioned the fairness of allowing superdelegates — high-ranking party officials who each get a single vote at the Democratic Convention — to tip the scales in favor of one candidate, with many supporters suggesting the entire Democratic party primary system is a scam designed to let powerful party insiders rig the nomination for their preferred candidate.
But in reality, superdelegates — like political endorsements — are merely the job references of political campaigns.
Suppose you’re on the Board of Directors of a company and you need to replace your CEO. You create a hiring process and assign points to each section of the hiring process to quantify it. As we narrow the selection down to the two leading candidates, we determine that each candidate will get interviewed 50 times (mirroring 50 state primaries), with a point score assigned to each interview, which will also take into account each candidate’s résumé and record of accomplishment. Interviews with executives from smaller departments will get fewer points to allocate; while interviews run by heads of major divisions will get more points to allocate. (Again, like primaries.)
But we’ll also want to factor in personal job references from executives of other companies who actually worked with each candidate — people whose reputations we know and whose opinions we respect. Each of those references will count for a point, too.
Superdelegates are those references. They are congresspersons, senators, governors, and other high-ranking party officials — presumably people who have worked with each candidate and know their strengths and weaknesses. Superdelegates serve as a small counterbalance to a candidate who may “interview” well with the voting public but can’t deliver on the job. They are essentially respected job references that count toward the final hiring decision.
If you have bad references, or no one wants to give you a reference, then you may not get the job, even if you ace the interviews.
But if you get a several hundred great references (from superdelegates), that helps you land the job along with solid interviews (primary wins).
If Clinton has earned the “good references” of the vast majority of political professionals who personally know her and have worked with her, while Sanders can only garner a scant few, that is a valid factor to weigh when determining who is best-suited for the job. The superdelegate system is nothing more than a job reference that is quantified with a point toward the final hiring decision.
Better that Democrats “hire” a nominee with a slew of great references than a smooth-talking, big-promising candidate with hardly any references at all.
If Hillary Clinton can garner the endorsements and pledged convention votes of the vast majority of superdelegates, and their opinion is mirrored by the overwhelming choice of voters in the primaries, she will have rightfully earned her shot at the final job interview to come this fall.