US primaries #11: Super Tuesday

by Jackie_South on February 28, 2016

super tuesday iconTuesday sees the biggest test for the Presidential hopefuls: Super Tuesday where a quarter of the delegates for both parties are up for grabs.

So far, the Democrats have elected a total of 156 delegates, and the Republicans a total of 130, through the February primaries. Tuesday’s haul dwarfs those figures: in a single day, the Democrats will pick 865 delegates and the Grand Old Party 668.

In total, fifteen states and territories are holding their primaries that day. Fourteen are picking Republican candidates, twelve are choosing Democrats.

Super Tuesday grew up as an institution in 1988, when a number of southern states decided to have their primaries on the same date to ensure that their regional interests were highlighted in the process and you can see from the map below that the contests are skewed towards the Southern states. This time around, they have also been dubbed the SEC primary, after the Southeastern Conference of college football.

That skewing is not just in number of states, but the size of them. The six largest Republican contests and the three largest Democrat ones are all in the South.

super tuesday map

Six of the states are holding caucuses – town hall type elections similar to the sort we have seen in Iowa and Nevada. The other nine are holding full primary elections – voting in ballot boxes at polling stations as has already taken place in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Some of these contests (such as Colorado) are closed: only allowing registered electors for a party to participate. Most (including the largest) are open: if you are a registered elector in the state, you can vote. And then there are semi-closed contest too, where a person registered as a party supporter can only vote in that party’s contest but unaffiliated voters can choose which primary to vote in.


865 delegates to be elected
3 caucuses, 9 primary elections
83% delegates chosen through primary election, 17% through caucuses
70% of delegates from Southern USA

Dem ST map

Buoyed by her success in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton is expected to take the majority of delegates on offer in Super Tuesday. She is pretty much guaranteed to win in seven of the twelve contests: the primary elections in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia and the caucus in the territory of American Samoa. Texas, Georgia and Virginia have the three largest numbers of delegates and those seven contests account for two-thirds of the delegates to be elected.

Bernie Sanders is certain to win in his home state, Vermont. But comparatively few people live there: it is electing a total of 16 delegates on Tuesday compared to 222 in Texas. Other than American Samoa, Vermont is the smallest delegation being elected.

That leaves four states in contention: the primary elections in Massachusetts and Oklahoma and the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota. They are probably more likely to go to Clinton than Sanders, but there are factors which may help him in each: in Massachusetts, being a New England liberal may help whilst in the other three relatively low black populations along with his relaxed views on gun control may help.

Sanders may pick up one or two of those last four states: my guess is his best bets would be Massachusetts and Minnesota (a liberal state where they are keen on guns). But he could very plausibly only win Vermont.

Dem ST predictions

FiveThirtyEight predicts a delegate haul of  508 delegates for Clinton against 357 for Sanders, and state that a delegate deficit of that size for Sanders is probably irrecoverable. I think if anything that could understate the margin of Hillary’s win.

Verdict: Clinton’s win effectively crowns her as the presidential nominee. Sanders will continue, but the eventual outcome will no longer be in any doubt.


668 delegates to be elected
5 caucuses, 9 primary elections
77% delegates chosen through primary election, 23% through caucuses
69% of delegates from Southern USA

Rep ST map

There are more states up for grabs on the Republican side, thanks to caucuses in three sparsely populated states: Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming.

A feature of seven of these elections is that they operate a “winner-takes-most” process at a congressional district and statewide basis. This means that if one candidate gains more than 50% of the votes at either level they will win all the delegates, otherwise they are distributed proportionately between the top candidates. This is not quite as loaded towards the victor as the winner-takes-all method used in South Carolina (Trump did not hit 50% of the vote in any congressional district), but it does clearly present opportunities to win big.

Donald Trump is likely to win the most states: seven seem certain: Alabama, Alaska (helped by the endorsement of their former governor Sarah Palin), Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. Between them, those states account for 307 delegates, 46% of the total contested on Super Tuesday. This haul includes the second, third, fourth and fifth largest delegations.

He is unlikely to win the biggest prize though: Texas. Ted Cruz is leading in his home state by 9% on average over Trump. FiveThirtyEight estimates that Ted Cruz has an 85% chance of winning in the Lone Star State as I write this, compared to 9% for Trump and 6% for Rubio. If Cruz fails to win here, he is out of the running, but his likely success should mean that he continues his nomination run. Texas accounts for almost a quarter of the total delegates to be elected on Tuesday.

Super Tuesday looks to offer thin pickings for Marco Rubio though. There are no states where he has a high likelihood of winning and only two where he appears to be in strong contention: tussles with Trump in both Minnesota and Oklahoma. FiveThirtyEight estimates that Trump has a 49% chance of winning in Oklahoma to Rubio’s 36%. Both polls held in Oklahoma this month put Trump ahead.

Minnesota may be more promising for Rubio: the only poll held there this year put him ahead. But that was over a month ago and caucuses are notoriously difficult to poll for (as we saw in Iowa). But if all Rubio can do is win in the eighth largest primary on Super Tuesday whilst his rival for the stop Trump candidacy wins Texas, he will have trouble making the breakthrough he needs to turn this into a Trump-Rubio runoff.

Arkansas may be another tight race, but this time between Cruz and Trump.

That leaves three closed caucus states where it is very difficult to know what is going on due to the lack of polling: Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming. The latter two have had no polls at all, whilst the only one held in Colorado was back in November, showing Ben Carson leading. This is unlikely to still be the truth, and Colorado could well be a three-way Mexican stand off between Cruz, Rubio and Trump. North Dakota and Wyoming are anyone’s guess.

Like with Carson, we are not expecting any victories for John Kasich. However, he looks likely to continue on until his home state primary (Ohio) on 15 March where its winner-takes-all election could keep him in the race.

Rep ST predictions

Verdict: It looks like another good night for Donald Trump, and one leaving an unclear picture on who the most viable Stop Trump candidate is. Ted Cruz will win the big prize of Texas, but his extreme views make him less palatable to many moderate Republicans than even Trump. Rubio looks the best fit for the bill, but is likely to have a mediocre night, perhaps picking up most second places and maybe winning two or three smallish states at best.

It is becoming increasingly likely that Donald Trump will be facing Hillary Clinton in November.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Stone March 1, 2016 at 7:12 am

These are really interesting and informative posts. Thanks!


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