What is Super Tuesday?

Voters in 15 states are getting ready to cast primary ballots on Super Tuesday. Here’s what you should know.

Super Tuesday is a crucial event in American politics and most often occurs in early March of a presidential election year after the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. It’s significant because of how many states vote in their primaries on Super Tuesday, making it one of the largest single-day presidential primary events (source) and gives a good indication of which candidates the parties are likely to nominate during their conventions. This year, Super Tuesday will occur on March 5th.

Why is Super Tuesday Important? 

Due to its scale and impact, Super Tuesday plays a pivotal role in shaping the election trajectory of presidential campaigns, often heavily influencing the momentum and viability of candidates vying for their party's nomination. It is the most accurate indicator of how the presidential primaries will play out and will award a large number of delegates to candidates, helping either Donald Trump or Nikki Haley secure the Republican nomination this election cycle. The number of states participating varies from year to year, but typically, around one-third of all delegates are awarded on this day (source). While its importance can easily be connected to the presidential race, numerous other important primaries are also slated for this day, marking its significance on the American political calendar for decades (source).

Dive Deeper: A History of Super Tuesday

In 2024, Super Tuesday marks the first major primary election date. But in 1979, Super Tuesday was used to denote the final most important primary election date. During the Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan Republican primary race, Super Tuesday was May 25. Shortly after, in 1984, Super Tuesday shifted to earlier in the election cycle to “frontload” the primaries, thus indicating earlier on who is most likely to win the primary election (source) and increase the influence states have on the election (source). 

The first modern Super Tuesday occurred in 1988 when 20 states held primaries on March 8. Southern Democrats wanted to give moderate candidates a boost so they pushed Southern states to vote early, but their plan backfired and thus cemented the early Super Tuesday as a strong indicator of elections and nominee success. In 1996, Senator Bob Dole’s Super Tuesday win forced Steve Forbes to withdraw, and in 2000 Vice President Gore swept up an outstanding 81% percent of Democratic delegates and secured the nomination. In 2008, Barack Obama narrowly pushed Hillary Clinton out and won the Super Tuesday primary (source).

Each state awards delegates differently, but the key to winning the nomination for both Democrats and Republicans is to win the most delegates possible, which is why Super Tuesday is one of the most important dates in the election cycle. A majority of the 50 states use a plurality system, meaning a candidate needs only to have the most votes against their competitors to receive all of the state’s delegates. Seven states in the Southern United States use a majority system, meaning a candidate must win over 50% of the vote. If a candidate cannot do so, a runoff election is held. California and Washington award their delegates to the top two winners (source).

What to Expect This Year 

This year, 15 states are participating in Super Tuesday making up 874 of the 2,429 Republican Delegates, which is around 36% of the total awarded delegates this year. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia, along with American Samoa will all be holding their primaries and caucuses on this day (source). The diverse range of states, in terms of demographics and political leaning, provides a snapshot of the national electorate's preferences and thus continues to be a strong indicator of who the Republican nominee will most likely be in the 2024 presidential race.

Super Tuesday stands as a pivotal moment in American politics, and this year is no exception. Its significance shapes the trajectory of presidential campaigns and influences our nation's next direction. Through its unique consolidation of diverse states and large delegate count, Super Tuesday serves as a litmus test for candidates’ viability and national appeal that no other primary election day can demonstrate. March 5 will determine the direction politics will take the next year, ultimately determining which two people may hold the president’s seat next.

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