Delegates for Dummies

There has been a lot of misinformation on cable news networks regarding what Bernie Sanders has to accomplish to win the nomination. One of the Clinton’s surrogates stated that it was mathematically impossible for Bernie to get more pledged delegates than Hillary. On another show, one of the pundits stated that Sanders would have to win over 70% of the remaining delegates to get more pledged delegates than Clinton.



With this as a backdrop, it would be helpful to have an understanding of what Bernie actually has to accomplish and to understand that there are material games being played with the delegate information provided by the media.

The table below displays the current published results for pledged delegates from each of the major news sources., The Associated Press, CNN, Wikipedia, CBS, (USEA), and NBC. USEA is an online site, that has, in my opinion, the most accurate and complete delegate information available. The other sources that also present accurate information are and Wikipedia.


       Pledged Delegates by Media Source

Sanders Clinton Difference
538 1,089 1,301 212
AP 1,027 1,280 253
CNN 1,068 1,297 229
Wiki 1,088 1,302 214
CBS 1,021 1,279 258
USEA 1,090 1,300 210
NBC* 1,026 1,279 253



The reason these numbers are important, is that they are the basis for the storyline that the media want to convey. By underreporting the results for delegates by as much as 69 pledged delegates, and over reporting the lead that Clinton has over Sanders by as much as 48 pledged delegates. AP, MSNBC and CNN make it look as if Sanders has a more substantial obstacle to reach the required number of delegates or to catch up with Clinton.

The distortion in the AP reported results are particularly important because AP results are used by a large number of other media sources including: ABC News, Bloomberg, FOX News, Huffington Post, New York Times, National Public Radio, POLITICO, Time, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

NBC does not provide any information regarding super delegates or even mention anything other than total delegates on their website. Therefore, the pledged delegates for NBC had to be estimated based on available information. MSNBC reports the results in the most unfavorable manner for Sanders and most favorable to Clinton, by including super delegates in everything they report. in addition, there is no way for the viewer to get further information from their site.



Super delegates are a particularly undemocratic element in choosing the presidential nominee for the Democratic party. In essence, the DNC has decided to invest the equivalence of over 7,000 individual votes each to a handful of elected officials, party officers and other members of the democratic establishment. Elected officials, i.e. governors, senators and representatives, account for only slightly more than one third of the 714 super delegates. The remaining two thirds are party officials and other DNC members including paid lobbyists. Elected officials were at least into office, and can be voted out of office as well.

Reported results for the number of super delegates committed to each candidates appears to be based on very few sources. The primary sources are the Associated Press, Clinton press releases, and individual announcements by super delegates. There have also been a number of statewide surveys of super delegate commitment. However, the majority of published information regarding committed delegates and superdelegates are based on the AP results, or the Clinton press releases with occasional surveys of the states superdelagates.

As has been reported verbatim in dozens of major newspapers, in the fall of 2015 the AP “initially contacted all 712 Democratic superdelegates and asked which candidate they plan to support at the convention next summer. Among the more than 80 percent who responded, 359 are backing Clinton, eight are backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and two are backing former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.” Although they periodically update the uncommitted super delegates, it is unlikely that they revise the results for individual committed super delegates unless they make a public statement regarding their support.

Clinton’s campaign has enlisted the support of statewide democratic politicians and members of the DNC, with a focus on superdelegates. Interested individuals have become members of Clinton Leadership Councils, again, many of these were formed very early in the campaign. The published media reports of committed super delegates have assumed that any super delagates on these councils are committed to Clinton. Of the 714 super delegates, at least a third are members of these leadership councils. For a third of these leadership council members, I can not find any other public indication that they will vote as a super delegate for Clinton. In fact, some of these members have since publicly indicated their support for Sanders.

The vast majority of the super delegate commitments are based on what they told the AP last summer, or that they agreed to be listed as a member of a Clinton Leadership Council. Most of which was done before Sanders was a viable candidate. Superdelegates are also included as committed to Clinton solely because they have donated to Clinton’s campaign. At least one of them has since publicly declared that he is uncommitted.

However, there are also a number of superdelegates that are likely very committed to Clinton. Among the Superdelegates are a couple dozen individuals, including Lobbyists working with the Clinton campaign, individuals employed by the Clinton campaign or her Super Pac, and Bill Clinton, who are all unlikely to switch to Sanders.

There is also the high likelihood that Clinton has earned political favors, particularly to elected politicians, by her endorsement of their campaigns, assisting at fundraisers, etc, that binds their commitment to her. This may explain why 85% of elected officials who are superdelegates have committed to Clinton, whereas only slightly more than half of the non-elected DNC members have committed to her.

In addition, an article in DailyKos has reported that Clinton has used a unique fundraising method, which skirted the campaign laws and has in essence “bought” a number of these superdelegates and DNC members in 33 states. These states account for about 50% of all super delegates and 60% of Leadership Council members.

I suspect that those super delegates that declined to join a Leadership Council or otherwise have not indicated support for Clinton are more likely to vote for Sanders if the pledged delegate results are close. In addition, it is likely that individuals that indicated support for Clinton months ago, and have not made any other more recent indication of their continued commitment to Clinton, may also change their support to Sanders.


Sanders Path to the Nomination

At this point, Sanders has a difficult path to the nomination. He certainly has to keep on winning states. The larger the margin of victory, the more Pledged Delegates he wins, the more likely he will be the eventual nominee. However, his path is also highly dependent on how many of the uncommitted super delegates, and the Super Delegates that are reported to support Clinton will ultimately support Sanders.

The current delegate situation based on the figures is shown below. As I mentioned above, I find these to be the most accurate of the sources.

There are two paths for Sanders to win the nomination. The first would be to reach more than 50% of the Pledged Delegates, and therefore have more Pledged delegates than Clinton, and persuade sufficient super delegates to support him to win reach the necessary 2,383 delegates to win the nomination. This will require that he wins at least 56.5% of the remaining Pledged Delegates.


                   Delegates per USEA

Pledged Super Total
Sanders 1,090 34 1,124
Clinton  1,300 498 1,798
Remaining 1,661 182 1,843
Total 4,051  714 4,765
50% 2,026 2,383
Needed by Sanders to get 50%    936 1,259


If Sanders is close to but does not have more pledged delegates than Clinton, he would have to have a persuasive argument that he has a much better chance of winning the White House for the Democratic Party. Even though most polls indicate that he will perform much better against the Republican candidates than Clinton, short of her being indicted, he would have a very difficult time persuading sufficient superdelegates to support him for him to win the nomination if he has fewer pledged delegates than Clinton. The DNC has repeatedly stated that no one has ever been nominated that didn’t have the majority of pledged delegates.

The table below shows what percentage of the remaining unpledged superdelegates that Sanders needs to achieve to win the nomination. This is based on an assumption of undeclared Superdelegates that will ultimately support him, as well as the percentage of current Clinton Superdelegates who he can convince to switch to him.

For example, if Sanders can convince 70% of the undeclared superdelegates to support him, and if he can convince 30% of the super delegates that are currently supporting Clinton to support him, then he would need to win 59% of the remaining pledged delegates from the remaining primaries and caucuses.


% Remaining Pledged Delegates Sanders Needs to win

% of Undeclared Superdelegates to Sanders
10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%
% of 10% 72% 71% 70% 68% 67% 66% 65% 64% 63%
Clinton 20% 69% 68% 67% 65% 64% 63% 62% 61% 60%
supporters 30% 66% 65% 64% 62% 61% 60% 59% 58% 57%
that 40% 63% 62% 61% 59% 58% 57% 56% 55% 54%
switch to 50% 60% 59% 58% 56% 55% 54% 53% 52% 51%
Sanders 60% 57% 56% 55% 53% 52% 51% 50% 49% 48%


Bernie Sanders clearly has an uphill battle playing in a rigged system, but he still can do it. However, he not only needs to have strong results in the remaining primaries and caucuses, he also has to win over uncommitted super delegates as well as some of those currently committed to Clinton.


Stephen M. Maher

Stephen M Maher is an actuary, and currently works as reinsurance intermediary and consultant to the insurance industry. As the Chief Financial Officer of The Hartford Life Employee Benefit Division, he was responsible for their exit from Medical Insurance in response to the threat of Hillary Care. Although not typically involved in politics, the perversion of our democratic system as a result of Citizens United combined with the manner that Bernie Sanders message has resonated with him, he has felt compelled to become actively involved. With 5 children both in and recently graduated from college, many of Bernie’s messages have moved him personally. Furthermore he agrees with Bernie that time is running out. Citizen United and the resultant corrupt campaign financing system are threatening our democracy. Climate change and Income Inequality are threatening our children’s future. Finally, he finds it outrageous that the richest country in the world doesn’t provide universal healthcare, a decent minimum wage, and adequate social security benefits for those in need.

2 thoughts on “Delegates for Dummies

  • Avatar
    April 9, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Why should anyone believe the Lame stream Media ? They can’t even agree . Bring a Debate to California and Watch Bernie Bern it down .After his win in NY.
    He should come to the Cochella Fest area and watch all the young ones Flock to him , they come from all over to go there it would be an Awesome place and they will spread the word for sure

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