In the ongoing US presidential nomination race, victory is not
defined by how many states a candidate wins, but how many delegates
he or she can grab.
Why delegates matter so much?
It is simple because finally, it is up to the delegates who go
to the Democratic and Republican national conventions to officially
choose the nominees for the presidency.
So anyone who wants to run for the US presidency representing
either party has to try to win the support of as many delegates as
possible in the state primaries and caucuses between January and
"It's all about the delegates," as Barack Obama, the leading
Democratic candidate once said.
This year, the Democratic convention in August will have 4,049
delegates in total and the Republican convention in September will
To win the party nomination, a candidate needs a simple majority
(50 percent of the votes plus one vote) among all of the delegates
at the conventions. So the winning number of votes for a Democratic
candidate is 2,025, and 1,191 for Republican.
However, not all of the delegates are won in the January-June
primary elections. For both parties, there are two types of
delegates, pledged and unpledged.
Pledged delegates, which account for 80 percent of the total
delegates for both parties, are determined by the result of the
primary or caucus in their state.
Unpledged delegates are appointed not elected, and they are free
to choose which candidate to support. They are called
"super-delegates" by the Democratic party.
In both parties, unpledged delegates account for 20 percent of
the total, and are mostly high-ranking party officials, members of
Congress and state governors.
In a close race like the current Democratic contest, candidates
have to make a big effort to woo the unpledged delegates.
The number of delegates allocated to a state or a territory is
based on its size, population and voting records. The most populous
states -- California, Texas and New York -- have many times more
delegates than the smallest states.
For Democrats, the number of pledged delegates a candidate wins
in a primary or caucus is always proportionate to the number of
votes he or she receives. But any candidate must win at least 15
percent of the votes to get the proportionate delegates.
For Republicans, some states operate a winner-takes-all system,
where the candidate who wins the most support state-wide gets all
the delegates. In others, the winner-takes-all principle operates
at the level of congressional districts: the candidate who does
best in a district wins all the delegates available in that
The Republicans also use a proportional system in some
If no candidate accumulates a winning number of delegates before
the convention, the rivals may have to negotiate.
(Xinhua News Agency February 13, 2008)