Super Tuesday: What Is It, and What Can We Expect?

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are designated by party rules to hold their nominating contests before any other states — but plenty of other states want their voters to have a say in who is chosen as the nominee, and therefore hold their contests as soon after those first four as possible. Hence, Super Tuesday – the date on which the largest number of states hold their nominating primary and caucus contests, and a large number of delegates are awarded.

Super Tuesday receives a lot of attention, and because states from all over the country vote on that day, it can provide some insight into how a candidate will fare nationally. It generally falls fairly early in the nominating calendar, often in March. This year, Super Tuesday falls on March 3, when fourteen states and two other groups will hold contests: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Democrats living abroad and the territory of American Samoa.

It’s the all-important delegate count that will determine the eventual nominee. Delegates on the Democratic side are awarded proportionally, which means that candidates who receive more than 15% of the vote in each state will receive some number of delegates that reflects their vote share in the race.

1,357 delegates will be at stake on March 3, a large share of the 1,991 unpledged delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. California, which moved up its primary this year, is the biggest prize with 415 delegates, followed by Texas with 228 delegates and North Carolina with 110.


Delegates at Stake

Alabama – 52

Arkansas – 31

California – 415

Colorado – 67

Maine – 24

Massachusetts – 91

Minnesota – 75

North Carolina – 110

Oklahoma – 37

Tennessee – 64

Texas – 228

Utah – 29

Vermont – 16

Virginia – 99

Territory of American Samoa – 6

Democrats Abroad – 13


We won’t know the outcome of the biggest delegate prize until 11 p.m. EST at the earliest, when the polls close in California. Bear in mind that sometimes races are just too close to project a winner when the polls close, and we may have to wait until more of the vote is reported to know who the victor is. Polls begin closing at 7:00 p.m. EST; Virginia and Vermont close at 7:00, followed by North Carolina 7:30. Then at 8:00 we will see poll closings in Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, OklahomaTennessee, and Utah. Arkansas closes at 8:30 p.m., followed by Colorado, Minnesota and Texas at 9:00 and California at 11, as mentioned. 

What Could Happen?

It shouldn’t surprise election watchers if Bernie Sanders wins his home state of Vermont, as he did four years ago. In 2016, Sanders won Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Utah as well as Democrats Abroad – we will watch to see if he wins those this year as well. In 2016 Hillary Clinton won the three delegate-rich states voting on Super Tuesday this year – California, Texas and North Carolina. At the time of this writing, polls show Sanders with a lead in California, but the race is closer in Texas and North Carolina.

As we all know, these races can change course in the last few days before election day, depending on news events, debate performances and voters who decide or change their minds late in the runup to the election. And South Carolina will hold its primary just days before Super Tuesday – a race in which polls show Joe Biden with a lead and where he is expected to perform well among the state’s large African American voting population. That may provide him with some momentum heading into the March 3 elections.

What impact could Super Tuesday have this year? If a candidate wins a number of states by a large margin or wins one or more of the big delegate-rich states, it could propel him or her into the lead for the nomination. It’s also possible that one or more Democratic candidates will not receive enough delegates to be able to continue; with a relatively large field still in the race, some candidates may find themselves so behind in delegates that their candidacy is no longer viable. Super Tuesday may mark a turning point in the race for the Democratic nomination, we shall see.

Some Super Tuesday Factoids

The first “Super Tuesday” was designated as such in 1988, when a number of Southern states joined forces to hold their primaries on the same day to increase their influence in the nominating process.

Twenty years later, in 2008, so many states voted on one day that it was referred to by pundits as “Titanic Tuesday”. That year, 24 states held Democratic primaries and caucuses and 21 held Republican primaries and caucuses; many states moved up the date of their primary or caucus, and Super Tuesday occurred in early February. More than 1,000 delegates were awarded that day in each party.

And sometimes Super Tuesday results can winnow the field. In 2016, Republicans Marco Rubio and Ben Carson dropped out shortly after the March 1 Super Tuesday voting.

Will Super Tuesday make history this year? By next week, we will know the answer.

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