Super Tuesday: What is it, and what has it meant in past election years?

Chicago Tribune

Each election season, the name Super Tuesday is given to the day that Democrats and Republicans hold the most primaries or caucuses and, in return, the most delegates are up for grabs on either side.

This year, it’s March 1. The first Super Tuesday was in 1984, and in years past it’s been a chance to see how a candidate performs on a more nationwide than regional scale.

Has Super Tuesday actually been as decisive as we’re told? By Super Tuesday, does each party have its nominee?

According to an analysis of compiled data, shown below, five candidates have withdrawn on or right after Super Tuesday, usually leaving another candidate with a clear path to the nomination. The only year since 2000 in which this pattern wasn’t followed was the 2008 Democratic presidential primary race between then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The two candidates were close in delegate counts until very near to the Democratic National Convention. While there were actually two Super Tuesdays in 2008, one each in March and February, Obama didn’t win enough delegates for Clinton to drop out until June.

In each Republican presidential primary since 2008, there have been more than two candidates in the race on Super Tuesday. The same script seems to be in play this year, with multiple Republican candidates in the race, while the Democratic race is down to two people.

So on or after Tuesday, will some GOP candidates drop out, as we've seen historically? Politico says it depends this year:

"March 1-2 will be the cycle’s most competitive spin days. A number of candidates are likely to claim 'victory' and viability, based on everything from winning the most states, delegates, congressional districts or delegates in different regions to having the greatest consistent finishes in multiple states to being the leading candidate in the establishment wing. Creativity will know no bounds."

Below, find out which states are voting on Super Tuesday, how many have voted so far, how many delegates are at stake and how many delegates are needed for the nomination. For past election years, see how Super Tuesday affected the eventual outcome of the race for president.

March 1, 2016

Republicans

How many states have held contests so far: 4
Number of states voting on Super Tuesday: 11 (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia) Note: Colorado is selecting delegates only, and those delegates will choose a candidate to support at the GOP convention.
Delegates at stake: 595
Needed for the nomination: 1,237

Donald Trump delegate count: 82
Marco Rubio delegate count: 16
Ted Cruz delegate count: 17
John Kasich delegate count: 6
Ben Carson delegate count: 5

Also ran for nomination: Jeb Bush, Jim Gilmore, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki

Democrats

How many states had held contests so far: 4
Number of states/territories voting on Super Tuesday: 12 (Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia)
Delegates at stake: 1,004
Needed for the nomination: 2,383

Bernie Sanders delegate count: 71
Hillary Clinton delegate count: 505

Also ran for nomination: Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb

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March 6, 2012
(Note: Obama was the Democratic nominee as the incumbent president.)

Republicans

How many states had held contests so far: 11
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday: 10
Delegates at stake: 419
Needed for the nomination: 1,144

Mitt Romney won: Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia
Rick Santorum won: North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee (withdrew April 10)
Newt Gingrich won: Georgia (withdrew May 2)
Ron Paul won: None (never officially withdrew)
Also ran for nomination: Fred Karger, Buddy Roemer, Rick Perry, John Huntsman Jr, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson

Was Super Tuesday decisive? Pretty much. While his opponents claimed otherwise, by this point Mitt Romney had pulled away in the delegate count, and that gap never closed. After Super Tuesday, delegate allotment was Romney with 404, Santorum with 165, Gingrich with 106 and Ron Paul with 66. By the end of primary season, Romney ended up with 1,524, Santorum with 261, Paul with 154 and Gingrich with 142.

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Feb. 5, 2008 (aka Super Duper Tuesday, Mega Tuesday)

Democrats

How many states had held contests so far: 6
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday: 22
Delegates at stake: 1,681
Needed for the nomination: 2,118

Barack Obama won: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah
Hillary Clinton won: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Also ran for nomination: Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Evan Bayh, Tom Vilsack

Was Super Tuesday decisive? Nope. Obama's team hoped for a larger victory margin, while Clinton won the bigger states. After Mega Tuesday, Obama had 730 delegates to Clinton's 818.

Republicans

How many states have held contests so far: 8
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday: 21
Delegates at stake: 975
Needed for the nomination: 1,191

Mike Huckabee won: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia
Mitt Romney won: Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Utah (withdrew Feb. 7)
John McCain won: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma
Also ran for nomination: Rudy Giuliani, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Alan Keyes, Fred Thompson, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Tom Tancredo, Tommy Thompson

Was Super Tuesday decisive? Kind of. After Mega Tuesday, McCain had 680 delegates to Huckabee's 176 and Romney's 270. Romney withdrew two days after Mega Tuesday, but the results weren't enough to make Huckabee drop out, though. (See: Super Tuesday II)

March 4, 2008 (aka Super Tuesday II)

Republicans

How many states have held contests so far: 37
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday II: 4
Delegates at stake: 265
Needed for the nomination: 1,191

Mike Huckabee won: None (withdrew March 4)
John McCain won: Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont

Was Super Tuesday II decisive? Yes. McCain pulled away by Super Tuesday II with 1,289 delegates, enough to secure the nomination. Huckabee withdrew the night of Super Tuesday. In the end, no other candidate came close: Huckabee finished primary season with 267 delegates, followed closely by Romney with 255.

Democrats

How many states had held contests so far: 37
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday II: 4
Delegates at stake: 370
Needed for the nomination: 2,118

Barack Obama won: Vermont
Hillary Clinton won: Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas

Was Super Tuesday II decisive? Not really. Clinton and Obama stayed neck-and-neck throughout the primary process, with Clinton not withdrawing until June 7, when Obama had enough delegates to be the presumptive party nominee. After Super Tuesday II, Clinton had 1,424 delegates to Obama's 1,520. As noted above, Obama ended up with 2,201, Clinton with 1,896.

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March 2, 2004
(Note: George W. Bush was the Republican nominee as the incumbent president.)

Democrats

How many states had held contests so far: 20
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday: 10
Delegates at stake: 1,323
Needed for the nomination: 2,162

John Kerry won: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island
John Edwards won: None (withdrew March 2)
Howard Dean won: Vermont (already withdrew Feb. 18)
Also ran for nomination: Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt, Carol Moseley Braun

Was Super Tuesday decisive? Definitely. By this point, Dean had already dropped out of the race when he won his home state of Vermont. Edwards dropped out on Super Tuesday, leaving only Kerry. Edwards eventually became Kerry's choice for running mate. Kerry had 1,303 delegates after Super Tuesday and ended up with 2,573. By the end of primary season, Edwards was second with 559 delegates.

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March 7, 2000

Republicans

How many states have held contests so far: 11
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday: 13
Delegates at stake: 613
Needed for the nomination: 1,034

George W. Bush won: California, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Washington
John McCain won: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont (withdrew March 9)
Also ran for nomination: Alan Keyes, Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, Elizabeth Dole, John Kasich, Dan Quayle, Bob Smith, Herman Cain

Was Super Tuesday decisive? Absolutely. Up to this point, McCain had 105 delegates to Bush's 320. After winning nine of 13 states on Super Tuesday, Bush built a lead that McCain could not surmount. McCain dropped out of the race two days after Super Tuesday. In the end, Bush finished with 1,496 delegates, and McCain had 244.

Democrats

How many states had held contests so far: 4
Number of states that voted on Super Tuesday: 15
Delegates at stake: 1,315
Needed for the nomination: 2,170

Al Gore won: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington
Bill Bradley won: None (withdrew March 9)
Also ran for nomination: Lyndon LaRouche

Was Super Tuesday decisive? Yep. Gore won every single primary and caucus in 2000 on the way to the Democratic nomination. Bradley dropped out of the race two days after Super Tuesday. Gore ended the primary season with 3,007 delegates to Bradley's 522.

For more about how delegate math in the presidential primaries works, click here.

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