Nothing makes it harder to predict the results of an election than when major news is playing out the day beforehand. Yet here we are on Super Tuesday, poll numbers having been shifting notably in the seventy-two hours since South Carolina, and two of the major candidates having abruptly dropped out last night and endorsed another. Today’s results will be chaotic and confusing, and a whole lot of pundits will come away from it with the wrong understanding of where the race is headed. But let’s try to parse things.
Most of the media’s attention will be on California. I’ll save you some time: based on the polls, Bernie Sanders will finish in first place in the state, with somewhere around one-third of the popular vote. Joe Biden is in second place and he’s surging this week, so the question is whether he can pull off a close second in California, which would give him a large minority of the delegates. Warren and Bloomberg are each teetering at around 15% in the polls, which is the minimum threshold for delegates in the state. Best case for Biden is that Warren and Bloomberg pick off a large number of delegates that would have gone to Sanders. Best case for Sanders is that he and Biden are the only two who pick up delegates, and that Sanders gets the significant majority of them.
Texas should perhaps be getting the most attention today. There’s a reason Joe Biden had his historic rally there last night. The polling averages have Biden just four points behind Sanders in the state, and that’s before Biden’s turnaround started in South Carolina. If Biden can pull off a win in Texas, it’ll be huge for him, on a day when Sanders is going to win California.
Warren will finish in either first place or a close second place in Massachusetts, splitting delegates with Sanders. Since they’ll each get about half of the delegates, it won’t mathematically matter much who wins. But if Warren wins her home state, she could use it as an argument for remaining in the race and continuing to fundraise going forward.
Minnesota is an odd one. The only two recent polls both showed Amy Klobuchar in the lead by six points over Sanders – but then she dropped out last night. She could have helped Biden by remaining in the race for a few more days and making sure she beats Sanders in the state. Early voting is a major factor in Minnesota, so perhaps Klobuchar felt she could drop out last night and still win the state.
You can expect Biden to win the majority of states when it comes to North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Missouri. One key thing to watch here is how Mike Bloomberg does. National polls have suggested that most of Bloomberg’s support has come at Biden’s expense, largely because the media falsely painted Biden as being “in trouble” and it became a self fulfilling prophecy. But now that everyone knows Biden isn’t in trouble, how many voters will shift from Bloomberg back to Biden? Today is also the first time Bloomberg is on the ballot anywhere, and thus our first taste of whether his poll numbers have been accurate.
The bottom line is this: Sanders will very likely win the largest number of overall delegates today, and it likely won’t be close. Regardless of the margin, you can expect the media to start running with the narrative that Sanders is the presumptive nominee, because doing so is good for ratings. But the reality is that after Super Tuesday, the demographics of the race start to shift in Biden’s favor. He’ll win states like Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi in double digit blowouts – particularly with Buttigieg and Klobuchar out of the way.
As of yesterday afternoon, FiveThirtyEight’s calculations had Joe Biden as the most likely candidate to win the largest number of delegates in the overall primary race. There’s a reason for that: not all state demographics are created the same. Even if Sanders wins big today, it won’t mean he’s on track for the nomination. The lead that Sanders builds up today will steadily dwindle over the next several weeks, as we get into more states that are going to play out like South Carolina did. And in any case, with no one on a path to come even close to 50% of the delegates, we’re still likely headed to a brokered convention.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report