For a long time now, CNN and other mainstream media sources have misled voters about the results in the Democratic primary. They’ve often combined pledged delegate totals for each candidate, which are tied to voting results, with superdelegate totals, which have nothing to do with voting and are subject to change at any time. While most superdelegates currently support Hillary Clinton, they almost certainly will end up backing whoever wins the pledged delegate race (if they don’t, they will be brazenly flouting democracy in a way that could quite possibly destroy the Democratic party), so including them when reporting election results makes Clinton’s lead seem much larger than it actually is. The networks occasionally note that there are two different types of delegates, but they rarely explain that the superdelegate totals don’t really matter and more often than not display delegate counts across the bottom of their broadcasts which, by erroneously suggesting a huge Clinton advantage, may discourage people from turning out to vote.
In case that practice isn’t bad enough, CNN decided to move its delegate math from misleading to downright false during Saturday’s Alaska and Washington caucuses. “Sanders would need 75% of remaining pledged delegates to win the nomination,” a rotating banner at the bottom of the screen declared, a statement that was egregiously wrong.
According to CNN’s own numbers (note how their headline graphics show the misleading combined delegate totals without explanation), Clinton had 1229 pledged delegates and Sanders had 934 before the caucuses took place. CNN estimates a total of 4053 pledged delegates, so a candidate would need 2027 (just over half) to win the nomination. Going into Saturday’s caucuses, Sanders therefore needed 1093 (2027 – 934) of the remaining 1890 (4053 – (1229 + 934)) pledged delegates, or just under 58 percent of those still on the table.
I decided to tweet this fact at CNN. They did not correct their banner. One of their pro-Clinton commentators, Bakari Sellers, then proceeded to echo their inaccurate number. When someone on Twitter pointed him to my tweet, Sellers responded by claiming that he was actually referring to a total that included superdelegates. Yet in addition to the fact that he had explicitly said “pledged delegates” on air, the number that included outstanding superdelegates – which still would have been misleadingly high – would only have been 68 percent (the only way to get 75 percent would have been to include superdelegates in Sanders’ target delegate total while excluding them from his possible delegate count, an approach which is obviously incorrect). I gave Sellers this information. He did not respond.
Sanders ended up winning Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington in landslides, likely earning about 74 percent of the 142 pledged delegates available on what pundits are calling “Western Saturday.” Since the networks may have trouble accurately presenting the math moving forward, here it is: to win, he should now need fewer than 57 percent of the remaining pledged delegates.
In other words, if his supporters continue to donate, phone bank, canvass, and turn out to vote, Sanders still has a very legitimate (albeit obstacle-laden) path to the nomination. Don’t let CNN – or anyone else for that matter – tell you otherwise.