In order to secure the Democratic nomination, a candidate must have at least 2,382 delegates. Why are there 712 (15% of the total number of delegates) that are unpledged?

The fact that Secretary Clinton is widely regarded as having so many unpledged delegates makes it seem like those delegates are pledged.

democratic primary 2016

  • 1
    I'm not clear on what you are asking. How does a candidate have unpledged delegates? Note that the diagram is showing pledged delegates. As for why there are so many superdelegates in the DNC, it's because that's how the DNS set up superdelegates.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 4:38
  • Maybe I am misunderstanding the diagram, I thought superdelegates were by definition unpledged. So the first part of my question is "what does this diagram mean?". The second part is answered below. I should have made two questions.
    – tlehman
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 16:30
  • thanks for the clarification. I've updated my answer to address that particular aspect.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 16:34
  • Answer: Top keep the insiders in power. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 20:11
  • What's the source of this chart? It looks like NYT? Can you edit in a link? Thanks! Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 10:44

1 Answer 1


Why are there so many superdelegates?

Given the chart you posted, I assume you're asking specifically about the Democrats. (Note that Republicans have a similar system, but use the term unpledged delegate instead of superdelegate. Both parties have roughly 25% of the delegates set up as this super/unpledged status)

The reason the DNC has so many superdelegates is because that's how they set up. Wikipedia gives a good summary of the history.

the Hunt Commission recommended and the Democratic National Committee adopted a rule that set aside some delegate slots for Democratic members of Congress and for state party chairs and vice chairs. Under the original Hunt plan, superdelegates were 30% of all delegates, but when it was finally implemented for the 1984 election, they were 14%. The number has steadily increased, and today they are approximately 20%.


To answer your other assumption in your comments:

I thought superdelegates were by definition unpledged

No--at least not in terms of DNC terminology. A superdelegate simply means they are a delegate chosen by the Democratic Party directly. When and whether or not they pledge is up to each one individually. The chart in your answer is merely pointing out the superdelegates that have pledged thus far. (As well as the regular delegates that were chosen for each candidate thus far).

However, as stated earlier, under GOP terminology, you could consider a superdelegate the same as an unpledged delegate.

Clear as mud? :)

  • 7
    TL;DR: because establishment needed a nuclear option to prevent too-far-out-of-mainstream candidate from winning the nomination and losing the general election.
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 15:07
  • 2
    Got it, this is there to prevent another McGovern situation.
    – tlehman
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:01
  • I think the answer would benefit from including a brief summary of the reasoning for the Hunt Commission's recommendation and the DNC's agreement. "Why is X like this?" is very closely related to "Why did X decide to be like this?", when the answer to the former is that it decided to be like this.
    – Corrodias
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 9:28

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