The Democratic and Republican presidential nomination processes may seem similar, but both have different rules created by state parties and national committees. Perhaps the biggest difference lies in the treatment and use of superdelegates.
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Delegates attend the Republican and Democratic national conventions on behalf of the presidential candidates to whom they’re pledged, based on the results of caucuses and primaries. These delegates are required cast convention votes for the candidates they represent. For the 2016 presidential election, there are up for grabs 2,472 Republican delegates and 4,763 Democratic delegates. To capture the Republican primary nomination, candidates need 1,237 delegates; Democrats need 2,382.
Of the 4,763 delegates who go to the Democratic National Convention, 712–15 percent–are superdelegates. These are delegates who are not required to vote for the candidate to whom they’re pledged. In other words, they’re loose cannons, able to vote for any candidate of their choice. About 7 seven percent of Republican convention delegates are superdelegates, but they do not have the same freedom to choose candidates as their Democratic counterparts do.
Superdelegates are usually party leaders–members of Congress, certain national committee members, , and current and former presidents and vice presidents. In the Democratic Party, they hold lots of power and, during a close race between two candidates, they may be able to determine who receives the party’s nomination. Their influence depends on how many delegates a candidate is able to gain through the traditional primary/caucus process, so it remains to be seen just how influential they’ll be in 2016.
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