In Depth

US election 2020: why Tuesday is so ‘super’

A total of 14 states are voting in primaries to decide which Democratic candidate should take on Trump

The race to secure the Democratic nomination to challenge Donald Trump in November’s presidential election is reaching fever pitch as so-called “Super Tuesday” gets under way.

The busiest day of primary voting will see citizens in 14 states and the US territory of American Samoa casting their ballots. Opinion polls and results from other states that have already voted put progressive Vermont senator Bernie Sanders at the front of the pack.

But former vice president Joe Biden is celebrating a resurgence in his once-floundering campaign, claiming victory in South Carolina last week. Biden has had a further boost after securing the backing of former rivals Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke, who have all dropped out of the race.

What is Super Tuesday?

Super Tuesday is the most important day in the party primaries, a contest staggered across a five-month period at the beginning of an election year to determine which candidate will represent each side in an upcoming presidential election.

Primaries are held in 46 of the 50 US states, plus Washington DC and US territories. The remaining four states - Nevada, Iowa, Wyoming and North Dakota - use a caucus voting system.

To become the Democratic presidential nominee, the candidate must secure the support of 1,991 pledged delegates from a total of 4,750.

The Super Tuesday phenomenon began during the run-up to the 1980 presidential election, where a high number of ballots were held on a Tuesday.

The Guardian reports that less than 5% of delegates have been allotted so far in the current contest, but today more than a third of available delegates are up for grabs – “giving it the potential to propel one candidate to front-runner status, and prompt others who perform badly to quit the race”.

Both Democrats and Republicans will be voting, but because Trump does not face any serious challengers, all eyes will be on the Democratic contest.

Ballots are being cast today in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia, plus the territory of American Samoa.

ABC News reports that polls will close at various times between 7pm Eastern Time (midnight GMT) and 11pm (4am GMT), though it is “unlikely a winner will be projected in every state before the close of the night”.

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Who will win?

Until Monday, Sanders held sizeable polling leads in a number of states.  But Biden’s prospects are looking up following the withdrawal from the contest of relative moderates Buttigieg and Klobuchar, allowing the former VP to run with the centrist torch.

Having trailed Sanders in most Super Tuesday states, some polling firms now put Biden in pole position to take the most delegates today.

However, there could be a twist in the tale. Michael Bloomberg has yet to drop out of the race, and having focused heavily on the Super Tuesday states, the former New York City mayor could siphon off some of the moderate support from Biden’s campaign.

Then again, Bloomberg has little backing among black voters, unlike Biden, according to political commentators.

Here’s a look at the polling going into Super Tuesday:

Alabama: With a large African-American population, this is easily the safest contest for Biden, who is expected to win by a considerable margin.

Arkansas: Bloomberg, Sanders and Biden have all been polling well in this traditionally red state. But opinion polls by FiveThirtyEight suggest that Biden might now edge it after securing the endorsements of Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

California: This is comfortable Sanders territory. According to polls, he has 84% chance of victory in the so-called Golden State, which offers the most pledged delegates of any state, at 494.

Colorado: Another left-leaning state, another easy win for Sanders, with Biden and Elizabeth Warren vying for a distant second place, the BBC reports.

Maine: New England, of which Maine is a part, is likely going to be a clean sweep for Sanders. Data from the state’s Colby College puts the Vermont senator in a comfortable first place.

Massachusetts: The only New England state which might see Sanders wobble is Massachussetts, where state senator Warren looks set to give him a run for his money. Still, Sanders leads the polls.

Minnesota: Klobuchar, a Minnesota native and the state’s senior senator, was firm favourite to win here. But her decision to drop out of the race and endorse Biden appears to have backfired - Sanders now looks set for an easy win in Minnesota.

North Carolina: Like its southern neighbour, North Carolina will probably be a landslide for Biden, who has focused heavily on the two states in his campaign.

Oklahoma: Until Monday, this was a hard one to call, with Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg all polling neck-and-neck. But on Monday evening, Biden spiked in the polls and now looks set to win here. Meanwhile, Oklahoma native Warren is given 100/1 odds of winning by FiveThirtyEight.

Tennessee: Biden has a large lead here, but not so large as to guarantee victory over Sanders, currently polling in second.

Texas: Perhaps the most important Super Tuesday race is also the closest - Biden and Sanders both have a 50% of winning in this hugely diverse state. With Sanders already certain to win California, a win in Texas could effectively hand him the nomination. Biden needs to consolidate his support with wins in traditionally red states, Texas included, to keep Sanders at bay.

Utah: Sanders has a gigantic lead in Utah. Warren, who is in second, has a mere 5% chance of winning, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Vermont: This is home territory for Sanders, who has lived and worked in the tiny mountainous state since 1968. “There’s a chance no one except Sanders will cross the 15% threshold of votes and get any delegates,” the BBC says.

Virginia: This was another close race between Sanders and Biden until this week, when the latter stormed ahead with a formidable polling lead. An easy win for the former VP is expected.

Overall: With almost all states expected to go to either Sanders or Biden, those opposing the Vermont senator’s nomination will have to pin all their hopes on the former VP. For a long time, overcoming Sanders’ formidable lead looked like it may be a bridge too far for Biden.

But with the backing of the party’s moderate former candidates, Biden has shot into first place in a number of key states, making the outcome of Super Tuesday far less easy to predict.

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