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Delegates and Superdelegates Explained

Delegates play a key role in nominating a presidential candidate – but who are they and what do they do?

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The road to becoming a nominee for president of the United States involves a small group of people known as delegates and superdelegates. The process of selecting delegates occurs in every state for both major political organizations, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, and takes place during primaries and caucuses.

A delegate system is intended to reflect the will of the people in each state and ensure that the right candidate is selected as the presidential nominee. Once the Republican and Democrat nominees are in place, delegates have no further job to perform until the next election. Instead, electors are used when electing the president.

Made up of local party leaders and activists, delegates pledge to support the winner of their state contest at national conventions, which are held by both political parties during the summer before Election Day.

How Presidential Nominees are Chosen

Although the act of selecting delegates is similar for each party, the Democrats and Republicans apply their own methods for determining how delegates are pledged to cast a ballot at the convention.

The Democrats assign delegates to each potential nominee for the presidential race based on a percentage of the support the candidates receive in the state caucus or primary.

For example, without a clear winner heading to convention, a state with 20 delegates can divvy up their delegates according to how many votes each candidate receives. In a three-way race, if candidate “A” received 70% of all caucus and primary votes, while candidate “B” amassed 20%, and candidate “C” obtained 10%, “A” would get 14 delegates, “B,” 4 delegates and “C” would be assigned two delegates.

Republicans give each state the right to award their delegates either by the same percentage of votes method, or winner-take-all.

These delegates then cast their votes at the convention to select their party’s nominee.


In theory, but rarely practiced, a superdelegate can undo and alter the results of a nominating process. The superdelegate is pulled from a position of stature in the party, and may be major elected officials or distinguished party members, including current or former presidents and vice presidents.

The Democrats assign these superdelegates to ensure there is a safety net if they deem the candidate of the people may be ideologically unsuitable to be the nominee – according to party elite. Since the party lost 2016 election, it has revamped the process. This involved stripping some power from the superdelegates, only allowing the delegates elected in primaries and caucuses to select the nominees. Superdelegates are now utilized in the event of a tie between candidates.

The Republican Party assigns three people from the Republican National Committee across the board for every state. Republican superdelegates are mandated and bound to support the will of voters in their states.

Delegates then attend their national conventions and vote or pledge their support for the candidates still in the race. At the end of this process, a candidate is chosen from each party to run in the next presidential election.

Sarah Cowgill

National Columnist at and Sarah has been a writer in the political and corporate worlds for over 25 years. As a sought-after speech writer, her clients included CEOs, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and even a Vice President. She’s worked as Contributing Editor at Scottsdale Life, a news reporter for the Journal and Courier, and guest opinion political writer for numerous publications nationwide. A born storyteller, Sarah has published a full-length book and is currently finishing a quirky, sarcastic, second novel.

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