White Men Hold Superdelegate Power Balance

Josephine Hearn, The Politico (Arlington, Virginia), February 15, 2008

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According to a Politico analysis, close to half of the 700-plus Democratic superdelegates who could end up determining the party nominee are white men.

One Obama superdelegate, a House member, had sharp criticism for the superdelegate racial and gender makeup, a reaction that reflects the sensitivities surrounding the issue.

“It’s still the old guard, the white men. They always want to control the outcome,” the superdelegate said. “But this time, they won’t be able to do it.”

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The exact percentage of white males varies slightly depending on whether the penalized Michigan and Florida delegation superdelegates are counted, but the overall percentage is at least 46 percent. Overall, men of all races represent 64 percent of the party’s superdelegates.

Unlike traditional pledged delegates, superdelegates are unbound by the outcome of any primary vote or caucus. They are allowed to make their own choice for the nomination, and this year, the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are aggressively courting their support in the event that superdelegate votes are needed to determine which candidate wins the nomination.

Representing about 20 percent of all delegates to the Democratic National Convention, the superdelegate roster is composed of members of Congress, other elected officeholders and party officials.

The percentage of white male superdelegates is disproportionate to the share of white males who make up the overall Democratic electorate. According to a January 2008 national poll by Zogby International, 28 percent of Democratic voters are white men. Women account for 55 percent of Democratic voters.

But superdelegates have never reflected the diversity of the Democratic party as a whole, nor were they designed to. They represent the party insiders, a group that white men still dominate.

Among the superdelegates, including Michigan’s and Florida’s, there are 28 governors (21 white men), 49 senators (33 white men) and 228 representatives (137 white men). Members of the Democratic National Committee are also superdelegates, and among this group, there is more diversity.

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Among the more than 700 superdelegates named by the Democratic National Committee, Clinton leads Obama by 231 to 140.5 (the eight members of Democrats Abroad receive a half vote.). Among white men, at least 81 were supporting Clinton and at least 63 were backing Obama. Many more remain uncommitted.

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[Editor’s Note: A list of superdelegates is available here.]

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