A delegate is a person who is generally empowered to represent a larger group. Such a group might be a union, a non-profit organization, a state, a political organization or a corporation. For example, a member of the United States House of Representatives is a delegate for the territory, which elected him or her. As a member of the House, he or she works in the interests of his or her territory, at least theoretically.
To delegate is to give authority or responsibility to others. In a sense, those who chose a delegate are choosing someone who will represent them and their interests. Instead of representing one’s self, a large organization may choose one or several people who are empowered to act for the company. This person is often also called a representative.
Though a delegate may represent the interests of an organized body, not all are equally empowered to act. For example, a delegate of a company who might participate in union negotiations may not be able to make decisions for the company. He or she may assert the interests of the company, but may need to have decisions approved by the heads of a company.
Similarly, a delegate for a union might be limited in powers. He or she might be able to bring a company’s proposed deal to the union, but union members may have the power to vote on final contractual decisions.
With a delegate who is a member of the House of Representatives, the person is supposed to represent all of his constituents. However, this is rarely the case. Instead, the delegate usually represents the interests of the party who elected him or her. Unless the person commits an act that would ban him from the House, he or she can vote on any issues by personal decision. The representative has enough power to act independently of the people represented. However, failure to vote in a fashion that satisfies the majority of the people will usually result in voters electing someone else in the future.
Sometimes, candidates for major political offices, like the US presidency, are called superdelegates. Each candidate is essentially a delegate who is attempting to gain the office and lead the country from a specific political ideology, i.e., Democrat, Republican or Libertarian. Such people represent the political parties that support them, but since the job of President is such a large one, the “superdelegate” term is deserved.