What is Super Tuesday and why does it matter for the US presidential election?

Despite the certainty of Biden and Trump winning, the mega-election day still matters

What is Super Tuesday?

What is Super Tuesday?
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Super Tuesday – the day when the greatest number of American states hold presidential primaries – has, in elections past, had super-swaying power in the run-up to the general elections in November.

Things are a little different this election cycle, with neither President Joe Biden nor former president Donald Trump facing serious challengers: Mr Biden has no serious competitors in his own Democratic Party, while Mr Trump is heavily favoured to trounce former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, his lone remaining Republican rival.

On Tuesday, voters in 15 states and one US territory are set to cement the seemingly inevitable paths for the Democrat and his Republican predecessor to become their parties' nominees.

As long-time Democratic strategist Alyssa Batchelor puts it, this year's Super Tuesday “in the macro perspective, it doesn't really matter … I think for micro reasons, though, it does matter”.

Ms Batchelor, a research strategist at Virginia-based Hill and State Strategies, argued that Super Tuesday will be particularly important for Democrats and how the Biden campaign navigates the President's role in the Israel-Gaza war.

After about 100,000 voters in Michigan issued a protest “uncommitted” vote in the Democratic primary against Mr Biden, she said “everyone will be holding their breath for Super Tuesday” to see if the phenomenon has staying power in other key states.

The question for the Biden campaign, Ms Batchelor told The National, will be whether it can balance the interests of its many pro-Israel mega donors while also respecting the will of voters in swing states, especially Arab Americans and younger voters.

“Whatever the results of Super Tuesday are, I think that will be the point that the Biden campaign starts to make strategic pivots if at all,” the strategist said.

On the Republican side, Mr Trump has steamrollered the primary race so far, clinching 122 delegates in early state races compared to Ms Haley's 24.

Altogether, Super Tuesday will decide the assignment of more than a third of total delegates for the Republican candidate for the general election in November.

But, as Mr Trump points out, he is “leading every state by over 60 points” and Ms Haley's odds of making a comeback against her former boss are decidedly slim.

Her enduring presence as a candidate at this point seems to be more of a statement of principle.

As Ms Haley puts it, voters “have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate”.

Most Americans would seem to agree.

A December poll from the Associated Press-Norc Centre for Public Affairs Research shows that broadly, Americans are not happy about the prospect of another face-off between Mr Biden and his predecessor.

Fifty-eight per cent would be “very” or “somewhat dissatisfied” with Mr Trump as the Republican nominee, while 56 per cent of US adults would be “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied with Mr Biden as the Democratic nominee.

And a Quinnipiac University poll published last week found that most Americans think Mr Biden and Mr Trump are both too old and mentally unfit for the White House.

There are, of course, other uncertainties at play that could be encouraging Ms Haley to stay in the race beyond Super Tuesday, despite poor numbers. She is still attracting donations, so has little to lose by staying in the fight.

In addition, Mr Trump is bogged down in a number of civil and criminal cases, and could be convicted before the election – a situation that would be both murky and unprecedented and could put his eligibility to serve as president at risk.

The Republican front-runner has been charged with 91 criminal offences in four cases, and his eligibility to appear on some state ballots is being challenged in a separate case at the Supreme Court.

Ms Batchelor argued that “on the off chance that Trump is disqualified, the Republican National Convention doesn't have to choose [Ms Haley] as the nominee, but it makes her claim that much stronger, because she did stay in the primary through the end”.

Super Tuesday snapshot from Texas

Both Mr Biden and Mr Trump were in Texas for duelling rallies on Thursday in the run-up to Super Tuesday. The appearances served as a campaign opportunity in the state with a consequential 161 electoral college votes.

Katya Ehresman, a voting rights advocate in Texas, says “in terms of voting power, Texas is unmatched”.

“In the context of how many voters we have, the types of media markets that candidates can invest in, and the different types of neighbourhoods, whether it be rural or suburban, that candidates and campaigns can kind of test their message in,” Ms Ehresman, a state-level programme manager with national grass roots organisation Common Cause, told The National.

There's an American phrase that “everything is bigger in Texas”, including its influence, but that also makes the state more vulnerable to outside interests, argues Ms Ehresman.

“What we've been seeing, especially this cycle … whether the border in Texas, or our public schools have been used more for political stunts, as opposed to actual policy and addressing work on issues that are affecting Texans that could allow for them to turn out and vote and be excited about a candidate.”

Indeed, the state has been at the centre of a national political firestorm over a growing number of migrant arrivals at its southern border, which has defined recent partisan hold-ups in Congress as it tries to pass bills on foreign aid and national spending.

Despite that national attention, Ms Ehresman says the Lone Star State faces unique hurdles in terms of voter access this election cycle. And that is not only because of a lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic and Republican front-runners.

Among them is that outside spending affects state-level results. Texas is one of the few US states that has no campaign financing limits for state-level elections.

The 2024 election cycle has seen “an influx in historic spending.”

That has included a record-high investment of an individual donor of $6 million from a Pennsylvania billionaire to far-right Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

Another focus point that could impact voter turnout is gerrymandering, or the partisan process where voting districts are drawn in a way that makes a Republican or Democratic win more likely.

“Especially when it comes to the maps and the districts … that does feel predetermined for the general election. And I think a lot of voters are wondering, why does their voice matter if their district is going to be 'red' or 'blue'?”

Updated: March 06, 2024, 11:31 AM