What's The Difference Between Delegates & Superdelegates? The Complicated Electoral Process Gets Explained

In the months (and sometimes years) of competition leading up to the nomination of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, it can be easy to lose track of how a candidate got there in the first place. Through the debates, caucuses, and primaries, it's a long and winding road for voters and candidates alike. But there is one key aspect of the presidential race that can help narrow it down for voters — understanding the differences between delegates and superdelegates. These delegate votes are instrumental in how a party determines their presidential nominee.

Though delegates and superdelegates work differently for each party (and sometimes vary just as widely state-by-state), they serve the same function: help select a nominee to send to the national convention. In order to do this, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes from delegates and superdelegates. There are, however, some key differences between the two.

Delegates

For the Democratic Party, a delegate is a layperson chosen at the state or local level who is expected to support a particular candidate when it comes time to decide a presidential nominee. The Democratic Party has 3,253 delegates that can be awarded to each candidate, and each state has a certain number of delegates they are able to give. The Democratic Party gives out delegates based on voter presentation in each state — so a candidate who receives 30 percent of the votes in a state's primary election would get 30 percent of its delegates, for example. If a candidate gets a simple majority of all of the delegates, they will earn the Democratic nomination.

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Superdelegates

Superdelegates work a little differently. Though they are also used to help determine a nominee for the convention, superdelegates are definitely not the same "normal" people as delegates are (hence the "super" in the title). The superdelegates are made up of members of Congress, governors, and former presidents. And unlike delegates, they are not required to indicate preference for a certain candidate and can vote how they please. There are, however, far fewer superdelegates — a little less than 800 compared with the 3,000 plus regular delegates. Also conversely, these delegates cannot be won by any state election.

The Republican Party has a similar system for awarding delegates, calling theirs pledged and unpledged delegates. Pledged delegates work similarly to how the Democratic Party's regular delegates work, and are local or state-level people tied to a certain candidate. Unpledged can vote freely of their own accord. Republican candidates must also win a majority of the delegates to be nominated for the national convention.

These delegates and super delegates show just how multi-layered the nomination process is. From the ballot box to the superdelegate, each facet of the nomination and lead up to the general election is important for candidates to consider.

Believe it or not, both primaries and caucuses can be laugh-out-loud hilarious. Don't believe us? Have a listen to Bustle's The Chat Room podcast ...