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US election word of the week: superdelegate

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s word is superdelegate.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties send a mixture of pledged and unpledged delegates to their conventions, but only the Democrats refer to the latter as superdelegates. They include party office holders, members of Congress, former Presidents and other elected officials. While the pledged delegates are obliged to vote for the candidate in whose name they have been sent to the convention, unpledged delegates can vote for whoever they like. Indeed, even if they have promised their support to a particular candidate, they can change their minds at any time up to the actual vote in the Convention. (If, like me, you find the complexities of the system confusing, this article may help clarify things.)



Pledge has a similar meaning to promise, but with added solemnity or force; generally speaking a pledge is a promise that is made publicly. As is well known, Americans pledge allegiance to their flag. More generally, pledge is often used in journalism simply because it is one letter shorter than promise and therefore easier to fit into a headline.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

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