Primary Focus: Super Tuesday

Posted by Molly Rockett, Demarquin Johnson on March 02, 2016

Zoom In: Winners on Super Tuesday

Last night, Democrats and Republicans in numerous states across the country cast a ballot to decide their party’s nominee. This was the first test of each candidate’s national appeal, as it required them to connect with voters across the country. The charts below display the results of primary contests in 11 states.

infogram_0_gop_super_tuesday4GOP Super Tuesday//

As predicted, Donald Trump won the most states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. Ted Cruz solidified wins in Texas, Alaska, and Oklahoma. Marco Rubio won Minnesota. Additionally, John Kasich finished only 3% behind Trump in Vermont. These results will be used as momentum for each of the candidates to continue their campaigns into upcoming primaries later this week.

infogram_0_democrats_super_tuesdayDemocrats Super Tuesday//

Democrats favored Hillary Clinton by a wide margin. She won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The other four states (Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Vermont) went to Bernie Sanders. Despite the 7-4 loss for Sanders, his campaign will benefit from winning contests in each region of the country.

Zoom Out: “Spoilers” a Very Real Concern for GOP

Last week, our Primary Focus blog on civility described how Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and John Kasich are all vying to emerge as the alternative option to Donald Trump. We explored how, in a contest without ranked choice voting, these candidates fracture the vote opposing Trump, and can clear the way for Trump’s victory. The threat of vote-splitting among the crowded field of Trump alternatives has likely driven much of the vitriolic attack ads non-Trump candidates have aimed at each other, and Tuesday’s contests showed that those candidates had good reason to be concerned. In several states, a split vote among non-Trump candidates enabled Trump to win with only a plurality of the vote (less than a 50% majority). The winners in each state received less than 50% of the vote -- that means more than half the voters in each state’s primary opposed the so-called winner.  

In Virginia, for example, Trump earned 35% to surpass Rubio’s 32% of the vote, beating him by a slim margin. Kasich earned only 9% of the vote, not nearly enough to even qualify for delegates. Many suspect that these voters could have propelled Rubio to a victory in the state, had Kasich not been in the race. A similar dynamic played out in Vermont. Kasich earned 30% of the vote, narrowly trailing Donald Trump’s 33%, while Marco Rubio failed to reach the delegate threshold with 19%. The irony is that supporters of Kasich in Virginia or Rubio in Vermont actually ended up helping Trump claim the victory by voting for their favorite candidate. If these voters had the power to rank their choices, they could have a stronger voice in the final result even if their favorite candidate did not have the support to win.

Focus: The People vs. Delegates

As we get closer and closer to the national conventions for both parties, the rules surrounding how delegates are allocated and how they vote are taking center stage. Democrats and Republicans use different systems to elect and distribute delegates, but both are built around the principle of reflective democracy, intended to best capture the consensus of the voters. Yet even as both parties continue to modify and adjust their process as we outlined in a previous blog, certain structural loopholes remain that can undermine the will of the people and make the results less reflective. The struggle to incorporate the standards of popular representation into choosing a single nominee remains an unsolved problem, but there are ways to improve the current system.

Making Thresholds Work Better

In the Republican field, Tuesday’s contests clearly reveal the costs of relying on high qualifying thresholds without using ranked choice voting. In four states, Alabama, Massachusetts, Texas, and Vermont, Marco Rubio fell only one or two percentage points short of qualifying for some delegates. Rubio earned 19% of the vote in Texas, a state worth 155 delegates, but Texas’s 20% threshold means Rubio will receive nothing from the state. Effectively, the votes of all the people who supported Rubio in these four states are wasted, as the ultimate delegate allocation will not reflect their preferences at all. Supporters of other candidates who did not qualify for delegates, including Kasich who earned 18% in Massachusetts and Cruz who earned 17% in Virginia, will also not have their voices heard in the final delegate count. With ranked choice voting, these voters would be empowered to list second and third choices among candidates, and could still have their voices heard in the process even if their favorite candidate does not reach the threshold. Ranked choice voting would make the process of allocating delegates more reflective of voter’s preferences while still allowing Republicans to maintain a higher threshold and consolidate around a consensus candidate.

Superdelegates Shouldn’t Have Superpowers

In the Democratic field, voters are only choosing between two candidates, and so do not face the same risk of having their vote wasted in the primary. There is the potential for an unreflective result, however, in the use of superdelegates at the Democratic convention. Even as Hillary Clinton widens her lead in pledged delegates after Super Tuesday, she is also leading Sanders in endorsements by superdelegates, the unpledged party elites that may vote for whomever they choose at the convention.

FairVote fully recognizes the necessary independence for parties to make their own rules to determine the best system for choosing a nominee to the presidential election. However, there are ways that the superdelegate system could be reformed to more closely align with the principle of reflective democracy. Specifically, restricting superdelegates from voting in the first round at the Convention would preserve Democratic primary voters’ right to control the result. If no candidate receives a majority in that first round, then the superdelegates should step in to put a nominee over the top. The current process allows superdelegates to have disproportionate influence. With this reform, voters can be sure their voices will be the primary factor in determining their party’s nominee. The party leaders and elected officials that comprise the superdelegate population will only influence the vote if a clear winner cannot be established.


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