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Super Tuesday: Go Big or Go Home

What is Super Tuesday?

Since our last feature on the Iowa Caucuses, four states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada have all cast their votes for both the Republican and Democratic Presidential nominees, respectively. With two caucuses and two primaries, these early voting states represent each region of the United States: the Midwest, the Northeast, the South, and the Far West. Both the RNC and the DNC set rules for when states can hold their primary elections, and excluding these four exemptions no states are allowed to hold primaries or caucuses in the month of February. Washington also held its Republican caucus for local elections earlier this month, but the state doesn’t vote to bind its delegates to a Presidential candidate until the subsequent primary in May. Typically, the earlier a state casts its votes, the more influence it holds in the nomination process.

States and territories from all over the US are holding primaries and caucuses on Super Tuesday, including Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. Alaska and Wyoming will hold their Republican caucuses, and American Samoa will vote for a Democratic candidate. Super Tuesday is a landmark day in the election season because it almost always determines who ends up winning the nomination and how much longer the primary season will last. The joint predictive power of the four earliest states is dubious because they constitute a mere 4% of the voters in each party. Only one of the fifty largest cities in the US – Las Vegas – lies in these four states. By the end of Super Tuesday, 32% of Republicans and 26% of Democrats will have cast their primary ballots.

Unlike the primaries and caucuses in the early states, Super Tuesday has massive predictive power. In 2008, Sen. John McCain won crucial races in California and Illinois, and won all of the delegates from New Jersey and New York. Pres. Obama narrowly won Super Tuesday over Senator Clinton. Though he went on to win the election, Super Tuesday’s extremely narrow margin correctly forbade a long, drawn-out race that would divide the Democrats until late May of that year. Sen. McCain and Pres. Obama aren’t the only examples of the predictive power of Super Tuesday; Gov. Romney in 2012, Sen. Kerry in 2004, Pres. Bush in 2000, Vice Pres. Al Gore in 2000, Sen. Dole in 1996, and Pres. Bill Clinton in 1992 all won their Super Tuesday contests and were the eventual nominees. In other words, precedent dictates that it is highly unlikely that a candidate will lose Super Tuesday and subsequently win the nomination.

 

What does Super Tuesday mean for the Democrats?

Hillary Clinton has won three of the past four primaries and is consistently polling slightly ahead of Senator Bernie Sanders. While neither candidate has a clear lead in national polling, Hillary Clinton is doing particularly well with the Super Tuesday states. With the notable exception of Vermont – Sanders’ home state – Clinton is leading in nearly every other state slated to vote on March 1. To stay in the race, Sanders needs victories in Massachusetts and Minnesota. Sanders knows that a loss in Nevada significantly hurt his campaign, and has his eye on Super Tuesday.

The majority of the Super Tuesday delegates will be awarded by states in the South: Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. While most of these states are traditionally Republican, their Democratic bases are largely African-American – a group that supports Secretary Clinton. The recent South Carolina primary indicated Hillary’s popularity with Southern Democrats, and pundits expect other southern primaries to reveal similar results. To his credit, Sanders knew that South Carolina wasn’t going his way and did not spend significant resources on winning the state. In spite of controversy surrounding Secretary Clinton’s record on civil rights, the hashtag #WhichHillary does not seem to have whittled down her support base in the south. To this end, Sanders’ winning strategy involves him mitigating his losses in the South and winning the non-southern races. Because of the delegate-heavy South, Sanders is slated to lose Super Tuesday. Nevertheless, Sanders could very well be the first presidential candidate to lose Super Tuesday and go on to win the nomination if he performs better in the rest of the country.

 

What does Super Tuesday mean for the Republicans?

Donald Trump has won three of the four early Republican primaries, and is currently polling ahead in all 11 of the states casting their votes on Super Tuesday, aside from Texas where Ted Cruz is showing a single digit lead. Uniform third choice Marco Rubio who has won no primaries thus far, and did not fare as well as expected in his childhood state of Nevada is not currently leading a single Super Tuesday state. However, he is second seed in several states including Virginia and Massachusetts. Rubio and his campaign have assured us all that “early polls really don’t matter.” But do they? Historically, the first four primary states may or may not be indicative of who the Republican party will nominate for President. Because Super Tuesday has not predicted an incorrect winner for the party nomination in the relevant past, if Donald J. Trump walks away the clear winner on March 1, the odds are overwhelming that he will go on to become the Republican party nominee for President of the United States.

The day (or week) after Super Tuesday is often a time when we see the field of potential nominees narrow itself. On the day after Super Tuesday in 2000, John McCain suspended his campaign, allowing George W. Bush to continue on alone to the Republican convention to receive the party’s official nomination. Perhaps this year we will see the end of the ailing campaign of Dr. Ben Carson.

In examining his proposed tax policies and inconsistent responses on both abortion and gay marriage, Donald Trump is undoubtedly the closest Republican to the middle. He has the overwhelming support of moderate Republicans, even in spite of Kasich and Rubio’s perceptions as establishment Republicans. Ted Cruz is far more conservative than either Rubio or Trump, and Rubio sits in between the two. When Chris Christie, a relatively moderate Republican, dropped out of the race, he endorsed Donald Trump. Rubio supporters are more likely to pick Trump as their second choice than Cruz supporters. Between Rubio and Cruz, Trump will benefit more if Rubio drops out than if Cruz drops out. Trump is more likely to win a Trump/Cruz matchup than a Trump/Rubio matchup.

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Image Source: JSTOR Daily