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Super Tuesday: Explained

Super Tuesday is the buzzword being used everywhere in discussions about the ongoing race for the Democratic nomination, but what does it mean? And why is it important?

Photo: Unsplash

First things first: what the hell is Super Tuesday?

Generally held in February or March, Super Tuesday is when the greatest number of U.S. states hold primary elections and caucuses all on the same day. This basically means that the states are going to determine who will go to the Democratic National Convention or DNC (more on this later).

There are 15 states and territories who are voting on Super Tuesday, including;

  • California

  • Texas

  • North Carolina

  • Virginia

  • Massachusetts

  • Minnesota

  • Colorado

  • Tennessee

  • Alabama

  • Oklahoma

  • Arkansas

  • Utah

  • Maine

  • Vermont

  • American Samoa

Ok…but what’s the big deal?

Given that so many states are going to vote, Super Tuesday is when the most delegates are available to be won. In order to make it to win a nomination at the DNC, candidates need to win 1,991 of 3,979 pledge delegates. In Super Tuesday alone, 1,344 delegates are up for grabs. There are still candidates to be won after Super Tuesday, but the number of delegates won today can allow a candidate to jump far enough ahead to have a strong lead if they win by a large margin.

What’s a delegate?

In the U.S., delegates are elected at state or local level to represent the interests of group of people who voted for them. They are generally voted for with the understanding that they will support a particular candidate – however they are not obliged to vote for that candidate. It is their vote that counts towards whether a candidate makes it to the DNC in July.

Alright, so who are the candidates?

The list has now been narrowed down to just five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. The South Carolina primary last Saturday resulted in a cull, as Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer all dropped out of the race. That leaves Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard left in the race.

So far, their delegate count is as follows:

  • Bernie Sanders – 60

  • Joe Biden – 54

  • Elizabeth Warren – 8

  • Michael Bloomberg – 0

  • Tulsi Gabbard – 0

Who is most likely to win?

Both CNN and the LA Times reported polls which show Bernie leading with the highest votes in California (with 34-35% of the vote) and Texas (with 29% of the vote). The two states have a total of 643 delegates between them. Another report by CNN suggested that Michael Bloomberg has spent the most on Super Tuesday advertising of all the candidates – over US$170 million in TV and radio ads, but the polls show him significantly behind Sanders and Biden in the big states and nationally. With the departure of Klobuchar and Buttigieg, most of the moderate votes will likely go to Biden, especially since he has received both of their (and now Beto O’Rourke’s) endorsements. Biden and Sanders are the most likely candidates to win. The threshold is 15% of the vote. If a candidate fails to get 15%, their delegates are excluded and reallocated to the candidates who did get at least 15% of the vote.

Whoever wins Super Tuesday may not necessarily go on to become the Democratic nominee. In 2000, Al Gore won by such a large margin that his opponent quit the race shortly after, making him the nominee. In 2016 however, though Hillary Clinton still won Super Tuesday with a 359 margin over Sanders, he stayed in the race, as it wasn’t a large enough margin to justify quitting. It is possible that he will do the same again if Biden wins today. Biden has also said that he would fight for the Democratic nomination in the event of a contested (or brokered) convention (which would occur if none of the candidates won the required 1,991 delegates).

Elizabeth Warren has said the same thing, and has showed no signs of dropping out of the race after Super Tuesday, even if she doesn’t win the majority of delegates. It is unlikely that she will win Super Tuesday, as she has failed to win the first four states, and polls show her behind Biden and Sanders in the big states like California and Texas.

So where does the DNC come in?

The Democratic National Convention is a sort of a halfway point in the election. The primaries and caucuses are all in the lead up to the convention. The convention will essentially determine who becomes the Democratic nominees to run for president and vice president in the election. It will be held in July in Milwaukee.


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