In this year’s presidential election, the rise of two outsiders, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, has upset the wishes of the Republican and Democratic party elites. Now, as these two have become serious contenders, their supporters are increasingly complaining that the elites have rigged the nomination process against them.
Sanders supporters protest that the Democratic Party’s ‘super-delegates’ are undemocratic and tilt the nomination towards Hillary Clinton. While party primaries and caucuses elect regular delegates, the super-delegates are party bigwigs (governors, members of congress, officials) who also have votes at the nominating convention. The 712 super-delegates make up 30 per cent of the total delegates needed to win the nomination, and thus could sway the outcome – even overturning the popular vote, in theory (that has not happened in practice).
Super-delegates have, so far, tipped the scales in Clinton’s favor. For example, Sanders won the New Hampshire primary by 20 percentage points, but when the super-delegates who plumped for Clinton are included, both candidates earned the same number of delegates. As a New York Times piece argued: ‘You could make the case that the Democratic Party is being downright undemocratic, the superdelegates merely replacing the smoke-filled rooms of the past.’ A MoveOn.org petition against super-delegates states: ‘This process is undemocratic and fundamentally unfair to Democratic primary voters…. Democracy only works when the votes of the people — not the decision of a small number of elites — are what determines the outcome of elections.’
On the Republican side, Trump supporters also believe they are being screwed over by the party establishment, but in a different way. After Tuesday’s primary in Wisconsin, it is looking more likely that Trump may not reach a majority of delegates to secure the nomination before the Republican convention in July. In that case, Trump might fail to gain the nomination, even though he would have the most votes of all of the remaining candidates. This is a real possibility, as the rules allow most delegates a free vote after the first or second round, and the word is that many of these delegates, who are longstanding party members, are not pro-Trump.
Trump himself has warned the Republican establishment of dire consequences if he is denied the nomination: ‘I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.’ His people are increasingly talking of the establishment ‘stealing’ the nomination from him. In a statement after the Wisconsin primary, his campaign said that his opponent, Ted Cruz, ‘is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr Trump’.