Voices & Choices

Three candidates drop out in the days prior to Super Tuesday -- who stands to benefit?

Three candidates drop out in the days prior to Super Tuesday -- who stands to benefit?

Three of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates withdrew from the race in the days since the South Carolina Primary, narrowing the field to five. Neither Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, nor Tom Steyer were poised to take home significant numbers of delegates on Super Tuesday, but their leaving the race could have serious impacts on the remaining candidates.

You can simulate the effects of these departures yourself using the interactive tool from our new RCV poll. Just click on Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer to remove them from the race and see who their supporters listed as a second choice. Full details on second choices for each candidate can be found in this table

The table below shows how each candidate’s support changes now that Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer are out. 

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Joe Biden picks up the most support from the three withdrawals, gaining more than four percentage points according to our poll—but he may not truly be the biggest beneficiary. 

Biden was already polling above 20 percent nationally, meaning he was poised to collect delegates from many states and districts. Remember, a candidate typically needs at least 15 percent of the vote, either statewide or at the congressional district level, to earn delegates. 

The biggest beneficiary could be Elizabeth Warren. The extra 3.4 percentage points she gains from Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer don’t push her above 15 percent nationally, but it may be enough to cross the threshold in some states or precincts, giving her a slice of the delegate pie where otherwise she would have had none. 

Another interesting by-product of these candidate withdrawals is the increase in the number of votes cast for withdrawn candidates. Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer all appear on Super Tuesday Ballots, along with other former candidates such as Andrew Yang and Deval Patrick. 

Thousands of early voters will have already cast ballots for these candidates, including military and overseas voters who must mail their ballots well in advance of election day. In addition, many more voters are expected to vote for them in-person on Tuesday. Voters may vote for a withdrawn candidate because they don’t know that he or she left the race, or the voter may know but want to indicate their support anyway. Either way, a vote for a withdrawn candidate is a wasted vote because it denies the voter a say in the outcome of that contest. 

Voters who cast early votes for these “zombie” candidates deserve to have their voice heard—and their vote count—come election day. We need a voting method which allows voters to indicate backup choices, especially in volatile races with crowded fields such as this one.  


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