Bernie Sanders Has a Superdelegate Problem

Hillary Clinton has already amassed an overwhelming lead among Democratic Party elites.


Bernie Sanders is hoping his quasi-tie with

Bern this Party down!

Hillary Clinton at last night's Iowa caucuses will put significant wind at his back in his quest to win the Democratic presidential nomination from the long-time presumptive front-runner. But even if Sanders keeps the race close while amassing delegates in upcoming primaries, Clinton's advantage with superdelegates is formidable and much larger than the early lead she held over her competitors in 2008.

Superdelegates are party elites who comprise about 20 percent of the delegates required to secure a nomination, and are free to vote for whomever they wish regardless of primary results. During the bruising Democratic primary eight years ago, Clinton insisted to the bitter end that with the support of superdelegates she had the math on her side to defeat Barack Obama.

Status Quo You Can Believe In
Alyson Hurt/NPR

The Associated Press noted that in December 2007, Clinton enjoyed the support of 163 superdelegates, ahead of Obama's 63, former Senator John Edwards' 34, and 54 superdelegates pledged to other candidates.

This time around, Clinton has the pledged support of 359 superdelegates, while Sanders has only 8, an advantage of 45 to 1. On rare occasions, superdelegates have changed their minds before the convention, but Bernie's deliberately outsider candidacy makes this a much less likely proposition. 

NPR's Domenico Montanaro explains:

The Clintons have a deep history with Democratic Party politics — Bill, of course, being a former president.

Sanders, on the other hand, has never been a registered Democrat and does not have the kind of party roots that the Clintons have. That has made it very difficult for Sanders to break through with the party elite.

Sanders would argue that the elites and the "status quo" are what's wrong with Washington.

It's their party — and they'll pick the nominee they want. But Sanders hopes to overcome the elite with grass-roots energy.

These numbers show just how much of a hole he starts in.

Even though Obama was a first-term senator when he began his presidential run in 2007, he already had the private support of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and would win the coveted endorsement of "liberal lion" Sen. Ted Kennedy before the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. The upstart candidate had a long way to go to chisel into Clinton's establishment advantage, but he already had amassed some big guns.

It remains to be seen if the democratic socialist senator from Vermont, who takes great pride in being the longest-serving independent in the history of Congress, can get Democratic party bigwigs to believe in his "revolution."