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Super Tuesday – History & Impact in the U.S. Presidential Elections

by Scott Kacsmar
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Super Tuesday is almost upon us for what is still a big day in the U.S. presidential election process. While maybe not as important to the average American as Super Bowl Sunday, there is usually a significant number of delegates won by a candidate for each party to propel them toward the party’s nomination for November’s general election.

What is the history and impact of Super Tuesday on the election? We look back at the decades-old tradition as we prepare to place our top bets on politics.

What Is Super Tuesday?

Journalists and political pundits call it Super Tuesday as it is the day when the largest number of states and territories have their primary elections or caucuses to decide who will be the nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties in the upcoming general election.

Each state has a select number of delegates, and the candidate wins their share of delegates based on how many votes they receive at these primary elections and caucuses. The candidate with the most delegates is the one who earns their party’s nomination to run for president in November.

The number can vary each year, but you can expect around 15 states to partake in Super Tuesday, and roughly a third of the delegates for the party are decided on that day, hence the “Super” label.

How Long Has Super Tuesday Been Around?

The oldest-known usage of “Super Tuesday” to describe this event is 1976. But it was really in the 1980s when primary season took on a more structured format for both parties, and that was the decade where Super Tuesday became a popular event.

Since then, it has typically been held on a Tuesday in February or March after a few of the earliest states hold their primaries and caucuses, including Iowa and New Hampshire. This year, it takes place on March 5.

Historical Moments from Super Tuesdays of the Past

We look back at key outcomes and moments from each Super Tuesday since 1984.

1984

The first meaningful Super Tuesday occurred during the 1984 election season, except it was actually held on 3 dates with different regions hosting these mega votes. For instance, the South had 9 states, including Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, vote on the same Super Tuesday. Then “Super Tuesday III” as they called it was 5 states with South Dakota, West Virginia, New Mexico, California and New Jersey.

The 1984 Super Tuesday was crucial in determining the nominee for the Democratic party who would go on to challenge incumbent Ronald Reagan from the Republican party.

Colorado Senator Gary Hart thought he would get enough superdelegates to support him if he swept this Super Tuesday III. But he messed that up when he mentioned that his wife got to hold a koala bear while campaigning in California while he held “samples from a toxic waste dump” upon his trip to New Jersey.

Hart lost New Jersey to Walter Mondale despite having a 15-point lead in the polls before his comments. Mondale went on to win the nomination, though he lost badly to Reagan in November.

1988

In 1988, Super Tuesday grew to 20 states with more diverse regions than just the South having a big say in the vote. But Jesse Jackson was able to drum up a lot of support among African American voters on the Democratic side by winning 5 states, though he ultimately lost the nomination to Michael Dukakis.

1992

Super Tuesday in 1992 proved to be crucial for the rise of Bill Clinton on the Democratic side. He was not faring that well in earlier primaries and caucuses against Paul Tsongas, but after gaining some steam with Southern voters, Clinton dominated on Super Tuesday, sweeping all 8 Southern states. That launched him towards the nomination, and he later won the election in November against incumbent George H.W. Bush.

1996

In 1996, Super Tuesday was a 9-state sweep by Republican candidate Bob Dole. That was just a continuation of the dominance he was displaying early in the process that year. Dole won the party’s nod, but he lost to Clinton in the general election.

2000

In 2000, Democratic candidate Al Gore, who served as Clinton’s vice president, swept all 16 states on Super Tuesday. The race was so lopsided that his opponent, Bill Bradley, suspended his campaign a few days after Super Tuesday. Gore went on to win the party nomination, but he lost a tightly contested election to Republican George W. Bush, who edged out John McCain on Super Tuesday by winning 9-of-13 states.

2004

The controversial 2000 election certainly had an impact on Democrats and should have been a sign to everyone that every vote does indeed matter. When it came time to find a new challenger for Bush in 2004, some states that would normally vote on Super Tuesday decided to move their primaries up a few weeks to February 3 on what became known as “Mini Tuesday” with 7 states holding a vote.

John Kerry ended up winning 5-of-7 states on Mini Tuesday. A month later, Super Tuesday was held again with 10 states up for grabs. Kerry won 9-of-10 states, only losing Vermont to Howard Dean, a Vermont-based politician who had already terminated his candidacy a few weeks earlier not long after his infamous scream on live TV. Kerry won the nomination but was unable to defeat Bush in November.

2008

By 2008, things were starting to get a little silly with as many as 4 Super Tuesdays being reported on during that tightly contested primary season. But the big one was the one to kick off February with a record 24 states up for grabs among the 2 parties. Democrat Barack Obama won 13 states, beating out the 10 from Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, John McCain won 9 states, beating out Mitt Romney (7 states) and Mike Huckabee (5 states).

By the time there was a Super Tuesday II in early March, only 4 states were involved. Huckabee dropped out after losing to McCain, who went on to win the nomination. There was even a “Super Tuesday IV” in May that consisted of just Democratic primaries for Kentucky and Oregon. Not a huge deal by that point, and certainly not so super anymore.

In the end, McCain lost the general election to Obama that November.

2012

In 2012, Super Tuesday was back to being a 1-day event in early March with Mitt Romney winning 6-of-10 states contested on the Republican side. He went on to win the nomination, but he lost the general election to incumbent Obama.

2016

For the pivotal 2016 election, we again had 2 distinct Super Tuesdays that primary season. In Super Tuesday I, Democrat Hillary Clinton jumped out to a lead over Bernie Sanders by winning 7-of-11 states. While Republican Donald Trump won 7-of-11 states, his delegate count was only 256 compared to 219 for Ted Cruz.

But 2 weeks later, there was a Super Tuesday II where Trump dominated the field and went on to win his party’s nomination. Clinton won her party’s nod, but she lost a tight election to Trump in November.

2020

For the 2020 election, Super Tuesday on the Democratic side featured a vote from 14 states and American Samoa. Joe Biden continued with momentum from his win in South Carolina by earning 726 delegates on Super Tuesday, edging out Bernie Sanders (505) again.

Just over a week later, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, so they were able to get those primaries and caucuses in just before things were shut down and quarantine enforced.

Biden won his party’s nomination and defeated Trump in the general election that November.

What to Expect from 2024’s Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday in 2024 will take place on March 5th with 15 states and American Samoa casting votes:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • American Samoa

Roughly 36% of the Republican delegates will be up for grabs, and a decisive win by Donald Trump could spell the end for Nikki Haley’s campaign as his final challenger.

We do not expect to see much of a contest on the Democratic side as the incumbent is usually not opposed in primaries and caucuses. But the results of the Iowa mail-in vote for Democrats will be revealed with Biden expected to win that as approximately 30% of the Democratic delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday.

With the most states and delegates up for grabs, Super Tuesday remains a pivotal part of the election season. Since 1984, no one has had a poor showing on Super Tuesday and still gone on to win their party’s nomination.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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