Update: How Hillary Clinton Technically Tied Bernie Sanders In New Hampshire

February 10th 2016

Dave Fonseca

Despite being drubbed at the polls in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton can leave the Granite State technically claiming a draw.

That's because Clinton is actually tied with Sen. Bernie Sanders at 15 in the race for delegates in New Hampshire, despite losing by a 60 percent to 38 percent margin at the polls.

Update 11:40 a.m. PST: With final poll results counted, Sanders drew to a 15-15 tie with Clinton. At the time of initial publication, Clinton had a 15-13 lead in New Hampshire delegates. 

CNN delegate results

To understand how Clinton earned a draw in New Hampshire, despite being overwhelmingly rejected by voters, you first need to understand the Democratic Party's nominating system, which is heavily influenced by party-selected super-delegates, who are the party's leaders.

Who Are Super-Delegates, Any Why Are They So Important?

The Democratic Party chooses its candidate through a combination of unpledged delegates, which are distributed in proportion to primary election results, and superdelegates, which rest on the votes of various party leaders, including members of Congress, members of the Democratic National Committee, former presidents and labor leaders.

This year, there are 712 superdelegates, and so far, they are heavily favoring Clinton. As of Wednesday morning, Clinton has a 355-14 edge over Sanders in the race for superdelegates. Given that it will take 2,383 overall delegates to win the party's nomination, that's a not so insignificant advantage.

Pledged Superdelegates

Why Do Democrats Do It This Way?

The rise of superdelegates can be tied to a pair of disastrous election cycles the Democrats suffered though in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It started in 1968, after a contentious Democratic National Convention in Chicago featuring a clash between voters and party leaders over the insurgent candidacy of Eugene McCarthy, the party decided to put primary election process entirely into the hands of voters. That decision would lead to South Dakota Senator George McGovern, a left-wing candidate, winning the primary in 1972, before being handily beaten by Richard Nixon in the general election.

Then, in 1980, Democratic President Jimmy Carter was crushed by Ronald Reagan, suffering the worst loss by an incumbent in history. With McGovern and Carter suffering massive defeats in general elections, the party would decide in 1982 to grant more power to superdelegates to ensure the nomination of more electable candidates.

Should Sanders Fans Be Worried?

Yes and no. It could be argued that squashing candidates like Sanders was the reason superdelegates were invented in the first place. Superdelegates make up 15 percent of total delegates, meaning their votes matter far more than the average person who enters a voting booth. But, as Shane Ryan of Paste Magazine explains, superdelegates have never actually stole an election from a candidate who was winning the popular vote:

This has already been an incredibly tense election, and Sanders voters are already expressing their unwillingness to vote for Clinton in the general election. When you look at the astounding numbers from Iowa and New Hampshire, where more than 80 percent of young voters have chosen Sanders over Clinton, regardless of gender, it’s clear that Clinton already finds herself in a very tenuous position for the general election. It will be tough to motivate young supporters, but any hint that Bernie was screwed by the establishment will result in total abandonment.

Democrats win when turnout is high, and if the DNC decides to go against the will of the people and force Clinton down the electorate’s throat, they’d be committing political suicide. - Shane Ryan, Paste.com

As Ryan points out, superdelegates are free to publicly pledge their support, but their votes aren't set in stone until the convention. If people are still feeling the Bern come summertime, it's likely that they will cast their vote in favor of Sanders to prevent another convention disaster like 1968.