Lessons From Super Tuesday

Lessons From Super Tuesday


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Vice President Joe Biden’s dramatic victories in at least eight Democratic primaries yesterday raised several curious questions about both the primary process as well as the entire electoral system. The very fact that Biden had virtually no money to spend in many states, ran no television ads, and still won in those states was remarkable. For students of electoral politics, however, there were two additional takeaways about the American voter.

First, Americans are far more sophisticated and aware voters than many politicians believe. Second, American voters appear to follow campaign politics both through the traditional media and on social media. Scholars and pollsters do not give the voting public as much credit as they deserve. The results on Tuesday demonstrated unequivocally that the American voter does not need to be beaten over the head with ads to form opinions about candidates. Once a candidate establishes name recognition, the voters appear to be able to assess what are the candidate’s positions.  All the money in the world will not deliver to a candidate much additional clout.

Second, the Super Tuesday primaries gave absolute evidence that early voting is not the sinecure that many had assumed it would be.  What Super Tuesday primaries demonstrated was that early voting produces very real consequences. While there always have been pollsters who asked exiting voters questions about when he/she made up his/her mind, the importance of that question became obvious in real time on Tuesday.

Clearly, the theory behind permitting voters the opportunity to cast their votes early is sound. It was based on the rationale that it would encourage more citizens to vote by enabling them to have more time options when to cast their ballots. It enabled more people who had difficulties getting to the polls on Election Day or who had made up their minds early, to cast their votes without having to go through the entire procedure of requesting and completing absentee ballot application forms.

Last night, however, proved something that everyone assumed but no contest had ever reflected it as clearly. Post-election analyses demonstrated that there was a very real discrepancy between those who voted before the South Carolina primary on Saturday and those who voted in person three days later. Most analysts recognize that voters who voted early—before Saturday—whether for candidates who dropped out or not for Biden, were not in a position to reconsider their preference after the surprisingly large Biden victory in South Carolina.

While there were no major polls released between Saturday and Super Tuesday, the events that transpired in the race (endorsements and momentum) the surprisingly, dramatic Biden surge on Tuesday, suggest that Biden might have made an even more dramatic showing had the early voters waited until Tuesday. (At least one proof for this explanation is that the early votes posted on Super Tuesday showed Biden with a smaller margin—or even trailing Sanders—based on the initial posting of the already counted early votes.) South Carolina and its aftermath might have influenced many early voters.

Understanding that this sequence of votes could also have gone in the other direction, many people negate the importance and the weight of early voting; other than it provides a mechanism to encourage and make it possible for more people to participate in a given election. It would seem, however, that the political parties ought to reconsider the efficacy and intelligence of the current, early voting system.

One of the options which should be considered would be for a 24-hour election day with the East Coast beginning at 9:00am and the West Coast at 6:00am. All the polls throughout the nation would close 24 hours later at the exact same time. It would enable voters, with differing work schedules, to vote at any time in the day. It would also prevent exit polls or turnout data from being released before all the polling booths throughout the continental United States had closed—at the same time. Thus, all voters would be responding to the same events and set of news events when they cast their ballots.


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