Super Tuesday – Part 2: Making Sense of Numbers

The Primaries. Super Tuesday: Part 2

Making Sense of Numbers

by Don DeBats

The votes that matter in choosing a presidential nominee are those cast by the delegates elected in caucuses and primaries on behalf of specific candidates. Those votes are cast, state by state, at the meeting of delegates from all the states at the national party nominating conventions: 2472 Republicans who will assemble in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18 and 4762 Democrats who will gather in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 25. (Not good times, weatherwise, to be in either city).

Delegate votes needed to win: Republicans 1237; Democrats: 2383

Super Tuesday makes a difference in those delegate counts: it is the first time in the nominating season that the numbers of votes each candidate secures matter in and of themselves. Those numbers determine how many delegates each candidate carries into the national nomination convention. The first four primaries and caucuses were all about viability and momentum. This second phase, beginning on March 1 (Super Tuesday) marks the shift to the phase where numbers are paramount.

As a measure of the numerical insignificance of those first four primaries and caucuses, consider the delegate count for the various candidates going into Super Tuesday:

Republicans: Trump (82), Cruz (17), Rubio (16), Others (16)

Democrats: Clinton (51), Sanders (51)

As of February 29, no candidate has more than 7% of the delegates need to win the nomination (Trump); Clinton and Sanders each have 2%. This race is not over. But Super Tuesday is likely to produce a very different sense of the outcome of the race.

The parties allocate the number of delegates to states based on a mix of actual population and past political success of that party in that state: no party wants to award a great many delegates to determine the party’s nomination for the presidency to a state which the candidate is unlikely, on past voting record, to carry in the November election. So the number of delegates to be determined in the ten states which in which both parties hold primaries on Super Tuesday looks like this:

Republicans Democrats
Alabama 50 60
Arkansas 40 37
Georgia 76 117
Massachusetts 42 116
Minnesota 38 93
Oklahoma 43 42
Tennessee 58 76
Texas 155 251
Vermont 15 26
Virginia 49 109
Total 566 927
Total as percentage of delegates needed to win the party nomination 46% 39%

Delegates will be awarded based on the proportion of the vote that each candidate wins. Though there are thresholds of viability before the proportionality is invoked, almost all of the remaining candidates are likely to win some delegates. In the next tranche of primaries, both parties move toward awarding all of the delegates to the candidate who wins the largest popular vote.

The big questions to emerge from Super Tuesday are therefore:

With the Super Tuesday numbers

  1. Does Bernie Sanders still have a pathway to gaining the magic number of 2383 delegates in the remaining primaries: what would he have to do, state by state, primary by primary, to achieve that outcome?
  2. Is Donald Trump stoppable? At long last in the candidate debates that are paralleling and informing these caucus and primary elections, Marco Rubio has emerged as the Republican who can take on Trump and call him out for his very checkered business legacy, his moral standards, his political and policy knowledge, and his standard of ethics. But is it too little too late from someone who is too young and too inexperienced?


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