The choice before American voters in November now is more likely than not Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. So say the results of Super Tuesday, the day with the single largest number of state primaries and caucuses is held by both Democratic and Republican Parties. Neither, however, delivered the knockout punch needed to floor their main rivals so the race will continue.
Clinton emerged from Super Tuesday with the most laurel leaves. She won seven out of the 11 states that voted, six of them with margins of 30 percentage points or more. More telling, however, was that Clinton showed that her grip on blacks and Hispanics was unshakeable. In the southern states she also won sizeable number of poor rural whites. This minority loyalty will reduce Bernie Sanders’s long-term chances to almost zero.
Nonetheless, the maverick socialist can be expected to continue to run. One, he won four states this Tuesday – though one of them is his own home state of Vermont. Two, the proportionate system of delegate allotment used by the Democrats means he gets a few delegates even when he loses. Three, his campaign raised $ 42 million in February from small donations averaging $ 30 each indicating his supporters haven’t given up. Four, a black swan event like an FBI indictment against Clinton over email security violations or Michael Bloomberg’s entry as an independent candidate could still derail her campaign.
Trump, continuing to show electoral strength far beyond anyone’s predictions, also blew out his opposition on Tuesday. But the fragmented Republican field means his victories are less decisive.
Trump won seven out of the 10 states which saw Republicans vote (the results from the eleventh, Alaska, are still awaited). But his winning margins were weak. Clinton won an average of 66% of the vote in the primaries she won. Trump won his states with an average of 39% of the vote – less than the percentages Clinton received in primaries she lost.
The obvious reason is that there are simply more candidates still in the Republican fray. Though down from the original 17 there are still five people in the race and even a hopeless candidates like Ben Carson continues to pick up five or six per cent of the vote in each primary.
Trump has struggled to get beyond one-third of the vote, leading his two other main rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to hope that if the race is reduced to two the non-Trump candidate will pick up 60 per cent of the vote. Which is why Cruz ended Super Tuesday by calling on other candidates to drop out so that the focus can be on defeating Trump. Carson’s evangelical vote would probably go to Cruz, who shares a similar base. Moderate John Kasich’s would be expected to gravitate to Rubio. The real prize for Cruz and Rubio would be each other’s vote share – if these had merged on Super Tuesday, Trump would have won only three primaries.
Trump, however, has time and momentum on his hands.
Cannibalizing vote share works best if the race narrows quickly or else delegates become committed to specific candidates. Then who those delegates will go to depends in part on the personal whim of the losing candidate and in part on horse-trading.
Trump can also count on the adage “nothing succeeds like success” to help him. Tracking polls at the national level indicate that his acceptability among Republican voters is rising as he wins more and gets more media attention. He won four of the 10 primaries with 39 per cent of the vote or more.
Everyone will know watch the primaries that will take place in the populous states of the industrial Midwest – Michigan, Ohio and so on – that will take place later in March. These have large numbers of delegates. If Sanders is unable to put up a good fight here, his candidacy will officially be dead. The Republicans will probably see their field narrow down to three and if Trump can pull in 40 per cent of the vote in these states, the Republican candidates may not be decided until all the party delegates meet to vote at the convention in July.