Delegate (American politics)

A delegate is a person selected to represent a group of people in some political assembly of the United States.

There are various types of delegates elected to different political bodies. In the United States Congress delegates are elected to represent the interests of a United States territory and its citizens or nationals. In addition, certain US states are governed by a House of Delegates or another parliamentary assembly whose members are known as elected delegates.

Prior to a United States presidential election, the major political parties select delegates from the various state parties for a presidential nominating convention, often by either primary elections or party caucuses.

As elected officialEdit

Delegate is the title of a person elected to the United States House of Representatives to serve the interests of an organized United States territory, at present only overseas or the District of Columbia, but historically in most cases in a portion of North America as the precursor to one or more of the present states of the union.

Delegates have powers similar to that of Representatives, including the right to vote in committee, but have no right to take part in the floor votes in which the full house actually decides whether the proposal is carried.

A similar mandate is held in a few cases under the style Resident commissioner.

Presidential conventionsEdit

Democratic PartyEdit

The Democratic Party uses pledged delegates and superdelegates. A candidate for the Democratic nomination must win a majority of combined delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention.

Pledged delegates are elected or chosen at the state or local level, with the understanding that they will support a particular candidate at the convention. Pledged delegates are, however, not actually bound to vote for that candidate, thus the candidates are allowed to periodically review the list of delegates and eliminate any of those they feel would not be supportive. Currently there are 4,051 pledged delegates.

Of the 4,765 total Democratic delegates, 714 (approximately 15%) are superdelegates, which are usually Democratic members of Congress, Governors, former Presidents, and other party leaders and elected officials. They are not required to indicate preference for a candidate.[1] In 2018, the party changed the rules to state that superdelegates would not get a vote on the first ballot unless the outcome was certain.[2]

The Democratic Party uses a proportional representation to determine how many delegates each candidate is awarded in each state. A candidate must win at least 15% of the vote in a particular contest in order to receive any delegates. Pledged delegates are awarded proportionally in both state-wide and regional contests. In each separate state-wide or regional contest, a subset of the total pledged delegates are chosen based on proportional representation, so it is possible for candidates to win delegates even if they receive fewer than 15% of overall votes in a state provided they receive more than 15% in a particular regional contest. There is no process to win superdelegates, since they can vote for whomever they please. A candidate needs to win a simple majority of total delegates to earn the Democratic nomination.[3]

Republican PartyEdit

The Republican Party utilizes a similar system with slightly different terminology, employing pledged and unpledged delegates. Of the total 2,472 Republican delegates, most are pledged delegates who, as with the Democratic Party, are elected at the state or local level. To become the Republican Party nominee, the candidate must win a simple majority of 1,276 of the 2,472 total delegates at the Republican National Convention.

The Republican Party, however, has established a few unpledged delegates. The only people who get unpledged status are each state's three Republican National Committee members. This means that unpledged delegates are only 168 of the total number of delegates. However, unpledged delegates do not have the freedom to vote for whichever candidate they please. The RNC ruled in 2015 that the unpledged delegates must vote for the candidate that their state voted for; the unpledged RNC members will be bound in the same manner as the state’s at-large delegates unless the state elects their delegates on the primary ballot, then all three RNC members will be allocated to the statewide winner.[4]

The process by which delegates are awarded to a candidate will vary from state to state. Many states use a winner-take-all system, where popular vote determines the winning candidate for that state. However, beginning in 2012 many states now use proportional representation. While the Republican National Committee does not require a 15% minimum threshold, individual state parties may impart such a threshold.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Berg-Andersson, Richard (February 23, 2019). "2016 Presidential Primaries, Caucuses, and Conventions: Democratic Convention". The Green Papers. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  2. ^ Siders, David; Korecki, Natasha (August 25, 2018). "Democrats strip superdelegates of power in picking presidential nominee". Politico. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  3. ^ Brown, Campbell; Helton, John; Hornick, Ed (February 14, 2008). "Democrats fear superdelegates could overrule voters". CNN CNN. Archived from the original on February 15, 2008. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  4. ^ "RNC Issues the Call of the 2016 Republican National Convention". Republican National Committee. December 1, 2015. Retrieved April 3, 2016.