Superdelegates and Edwards

Forget Clinton, Obama and superdelegates, John Edwards could well determine who wins the Democratic nomination. Despite Obama and Clinton returning reasonably equal results in Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton has a commanding lead in the number of delegates who will vote for her at the convention. This is because of the superdelegates, party officials who can vote for whomever they like. Superdelegates account for 792 out of the 4040 delegates who will vote at the convention. Amongst those who have pledged support, Clinton has a commanding lead. Here are how the results currently stand:

Pledged Pledged (%) Super Super (%) Total Total (%)
Clinton 24 35.82% 159 59.77% 183 54.95%
Obama 25 37.31% 53 19.92% 78 23.42%
Edwards 18 26.87% 34 12.78% 52 15.62%
Richardson 0 0.00% 19 7.14% 19 5.71%
Kucinic 0 0.00% 1 0.38% 1 0.30%

If these trends are extrapolated, no candidate will have enough votes at the convention to form a majority. Clinton, by virtue of her superior superdelegate numbers, will be ahead of Obama by about 300 votes. She will require a far smaller proportion of Edwards’s delegates in order to form a majority:


Super Pledged Total To Win % of Ed. to win
Clinton 473 1163 1637 384 39.44%
Obama 158 1212 1370 651 66.88%
Edwards 101 873 974 1047
Richardson 57 0 57 1964
Kucinic 3 0 3 2018

Indeed, Obama will need to pick up at least two thirds of Edwards’s delegates in order to seal the nomination. In reality, things will probably pan out slightly differently. Edwards is likely to gain smaller percentages of the vote in the coming states, closer to 10% than 20%. My understanding of the convention rules is that Edwards can either instruct his delegates to vote for another candidate or allow them to vote with their consciences. If he lets the delegates vote by their conscience, it is likely, in my opinion, that Hillary will win.

Should Edwards Drop Out?

With Edwards short on money and with no realistic chance of winning the nomination, there has been much speculation amongst Democrats as to whether Edwards should remain in the race. Supporters of both Clinton and Edwards seem to think their candidate would pick up the Edwards vote. Edwards himself as said he will remain in the race. It would definitely be in his interests to do so. So long as the tussle between Obama and Clinton remains close, Edwards will enter the DNC as kingmaker: his delegates will determine the nominee. Edwards will then be able to offer his delegates to either Clinton or Obama, perhaps in exchange for his name on the ticket as Vice President or a future cabinet position.

Obama needs to stay in touch with Clinton, forget about superdelegates, and concentrate on wooing Edwards. Edwards supporters should stick with him but make sure he knows who their second choice is.

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2 Responses to “Superdelegates and Edwards”

  1. Doctor Drone Says:

    Excellent analysis. Edwards, for reasons that don’t need to be stated, won’t drop out.

  2. Mark K Says:

    This has the makings of a great blog:

    1) As an economist, I am a big fan of the lamppost metaphor.
    2) I am not a Blog junkie (my wife referred me here), but this is one of the few places where someone is actually counting delegates and discussing the implications of the fact that you win the nomination by getting a majority of delegates, not just by winning primaries. I have watched a lot of TV coverage (too much) and NO ONE talks about how the candidates actually win delegates. So, for example, ZERO delegates were directly chosen in the Iowa caucuses. The result of the caucuses will ultimately be reflected in delegates as the individuals chosen in the caucuses meet in conventions to chose delegates, but there will not be a one-to-one relationship between the caucus vote and the delegate count.
    3) NO ONE, at least on TV, talks about the differences between the two parties in how the delegates are chosen (which is huge). Even a careful listener would assume that if the primary counts were similar between the two parties (for example, if the top 3 candidates got 40%, 30% , 20% respectively), then the conventions would be similar, but this is completely incorrect. The Democrats have a specific formula (80% chosen by primaries and caucuses and 20% superdelegates) that covers all states, but the Republicans let each state make its own rules. Many Republican states have chosen “winner take all” which makes it much more likely that a candidate will amass a majority prior to the convention. It also means that Giulianni is not the dead letter he seems to be if he can win some big states. The proportional rule chosen by the Democrats makes it more likely that no candidate will amass a majority prior to the convention, which is the point made by this post.
    4) Since we are talking about numbers, it is probably a big, not a little, mistake to linearly extrapolate from the current numbers. The one thing TV gets right is that if the early primaries result in a bandwagon effect (as it appeared was building for Obama (and may still be)), then all of the number crunching and subtleties are irrelevant because one candidate will accumulate an insurmountable lead. This has the makings of a great blog:

    1) As an economist, I am a big fan of the lamppost metaphor.
    2) I am not a Blog junkie (my wife referred me here), but this is one of the few places where someone is actually counting delegates and discussing the implications of the fact that you win the nomination by getting a majority of delegates, not just by winning primaries. I have watched a lot of TV coverage (too much) and NO ONE talks about the how the candidates actually win delegates. So, for example, ZERO delegates were directly chosen in the Iowa caucuses. The result of the caucuses will ultimately be reflected in delegates as the individuals chosen in the caucuses meet in conventions to chose delegates, but there will not be a one-to-one relationship between the caucus vote and the delegate count.
    3) NO ONE , at least on TV, talks about the differences between the two parties in how the delegates are chosen (which is huge). Even a careful listener would assume that if the primary counts were similar between the two parties (for example, if the top 3 candidates got 40%, 30% , 20% respectively), then the conventions would be similar, but this is completely incorrect. The Democrats have a specific formula (80% chosen by primaries and caucuses and 20% superdelegates) that covers all states, but the Republicans let each state make its own rules. Many Republican states have chosen winner take all, which makes it much more likely that a candidate will amass a majority prior to the convention. It also means that Giulianni is not the dead letter he seems to be if he can win some big states. The proportional rule chosen by the Democrats makes it more likely that no candidate will amass a majority prior to the convention, which is the point made by this post.
    4) Since we are talking about numbers, it is probably a big, not a little, mistake to linearly extrapolate from the current numbers. The one thing TV gets right is that if the early primaries result in a bandwagon effect (as it appeared was building for Obama (and may still be)), then all of the number crunching and subtleties are irrelevant, because one candidate will accumulate an insurmountable lead.

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