Thursday, May 5, 2016
Superdelegates have become unpopular -- and only among certain people -- this year. They've largely been a nonissue in the past.
It's worth remembering that superdelegates were created to AVOID an undemocratic outcome. In 1968, the death and withdrawal of a number of candidates left most delegates to the Democratic National Convention unpledged. The party was faced with the terrible prospect of a majority of its delegates up for grabs by any wild-eyed johnny-come-lately who put his name in the ring only once the convention started -- an outcome that would have compromised the legitimacy of the process. Indeed, that's exactly what happened: Eugene McCarthy had less than a quarter of all delgates, but he had the most claim to legitimacy (having been in the race since its inception). Hubert Humphrey entered the race at the convention, and soon had more delegates than McCarthy (after claiming -- shadows of 2016? -- that McCarthy was too liberal for the party).
Superdelegates were legitimate: They'd been elected by the public. More than anyone, they were the most legitimate standard-bearers of the Democratic Party -- having faced the entire voting public (not just the handful of party activists and agitators involved in primaries). So the party gave superdelegates a voice in the process. This also met the needs of the party faction that claimed that primaries were too prone to nominating unelectable extremists. After all, elected officials tended to be more moderate (having faced a broad electorate not just primary voters) and tended to be accustomed to and devotees of compromise (rather than rigid ideologues or single-issue candidates).
The number of superdelegates was limited, so that they couldn't change the outcome of a decisive nominating process, but they were numerous enough that they could alter close or divided outcomes toward a more moderate candidate.
As to "democracy": This is a political party process, not an election. Political parties can be as undemocratic internally as they want. No one can say boo about it. Because of their low turnout, primaries are as equally undemocratic as caucuses, conventions, and other nominating procedures. Primaries just provide a different mix of nominators, and different access points for new nominators to become involved in the nominating system.