After primary elections take place for people choosing to run for the US Presidency, the Republican and Democratic parties each hold a National convention. At this convention the person who will represent the party and run in the Presidential election is nominated. Part of this nomination is determined by delegates, who represent the number of votes won at primaries or caucuses through the primary period. Each delegate is a representation of the popular vote for each district. It is possible to achieve more individual votes and still enter the primary with fewer delegates. A superdelegate is something quite different and is an elected official in the Democratic Party who gets to cast an individual vote for his/her candidate of choice not based on the votes of citizens.
Up until the 1970s, party officials chose their presidential candidate. Primaries and caucuses became the principal method for giving people choice in who they wanted to run, not leaving the decision solely up to the party. But both Republicans and Democrats still wanted to have a say in the final decision, resulting in the creation of the superdelegate or unpledged delegate role. Superdelegates are chosen differently per party.
The Democrats have at present, 796 superdelegate members. These are made up of all Democratic members of Congress, Democratic governors, members of the Democratic Committee and other Democratic elected officials. In all there are a total of 4049 superdelegates and delegates, and winning the Democratic nomination means getting 2025 delegate votes. These numbers are subject to change and have changed from convention to convention based on a variety of factors. Technically, a Democrat can win the nomination without any superdelegate support, but if a race is close, these votes can be extremely important.
The Republican Party has about 400 superdelegate members. They’re often simply called unpledged delegates because the term superdelegate arises from the Democratic Party. They have much less sway, unless the race is extremely close, in the final nomination for their presidential candidate.
Many people feel that the appointment of superdelegate candidates, and/or their sheer existence is not in keeping with the democratic ideals of election. Superdelegates can controvert the will of the people in a close election, and they do not have to make their choice based on popular vote. Other factors like personal relationships, political alignments, or simply like or dislike of a person may inform the choice of a superdelegate. People often criticize this process of nomination because it does not fully represent the will of the people.