The Best Guide to Super Tuesday (no, seriously): Biden’s Got This (and the Nomination)

There will be no revolution: This 2020 Super Tuesday, Biden will greatly exceed his polling averages as the moderate consolidation came just in the nick of time; short of Bloomberg dropping out yesterday, this is basically the worst-case scenario for Bernie possible since Nevada. Below, state-by-state analysis!

By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedInFacebookTwitter @bfry1981 March 3, 2020; see my related article from before the South Carolina primary where I laid out the below scenario: Democrats Look Disastrous, But Biden May Yet Save Them from Themselves Starting in South Carolina

Super Tuesday
270 to Win

WASHINGTON — There is talk that the global market selloffs, in addition to being about COVID-19 (coronavirus) may be something of, to use the economics term, a correction.

We can think about the upcoming Super Tuesday contests as something similar for the Democratic Party: a natural reaction to Sandersism (a virus in and of itself in many ways I have outlined before).

Because it looks like Bernie might have peaked in February, just like in 2016.

Pledged delegates are awarded in two batches, one awarded by state vote share and one awarded by vote share in Congressional districts, and the threshold is 15% for both sets of delegates.  And remember, it takes 1,191 delegates to get the nomination on the first ballot of the Democratic National Convention and thereby avoid a contested convention.

So far, only four states have voted and here are the delegate totals, with Biden barely behind Bernie:

The New York Times

Those crowning Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with a few-dozen delegates were fools.  If anything, February was like a wild-card playoff, a pre-playoff playoff.

Let’s just remember how weird Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada are: Iowa is the one Midwestern state without any serious metropolitan area.  New Hampshire also has very few people and is also without a sizable urban area.  Iowa and New Hampshire rank 31st and 41st in terms of population, and, as I have noted before, they are the 8th and 6th whitest states (while Bernie Sanders’s home state of Vermont is the second-whitest and second-least populous of all the states).  And Nevada, well, is Nevada…

Another thing to think about: In 2016, Hillary Clinton won South Carolina 73.5% to Bernie’s 26%.  This time around, the final vote-count was 48.66% for former Vice President Biden, 19.76% for Bernie.  But if we add the moderates in that race together and add Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie together, we basically get the 2016 Clinton-Bernie margins.  This is extremely bad news for Sanders, for it suggests that in many ways, Bernie has not grown his coalition much and that many states will break down in a way similar to voting patterns from 2016, when Bernie was not even close to matching Clinton for delegates in the end.

Warren still inspires passion and will continue to be a thorn in Bernie’s side as he tries to consolidate the “progressive” wing, but I imagine some Warren supporters who like Bernie, too, will see the writing on the wall (Warren is not likely to win any state today) and some of her support (though not a lot) may shift to Bernie in the face of moderate consolidation.

Finally, a note on former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg: he will not be a non-factor, but I really do expect, at the last minute, his numbers to fade, and, as in South Carolina, I expect undecided late-breakers to break overwhelmingly for Biden, especially with the latest developments.  I think it’s one thing for people to go into a survey and declare they prefer Bloomberg, but another to go in today and vote for him when it is clearly now becoming, for all intents and purposes, a two-person race and more and more obviously so.  I think in most states he will not hit 15% statewide (a crucial threshold for being eligible for delegates).  So, in every state where Bloomberg is polling decently, I expect him to lose a solid chunk of his support and for that shifting support to inflate Biden’s numbers beyond what the polling suggests.  Of course, this is the ex-factor, but data suggests Bloomberg voters are the least committed in the Democratic primary, so I’m sticking with being bearish on Bloomberg.

Breakdown of the 16-Super Tuesday Contests:

Now, let’s look at all the contests!  Each state/territory name will be followed, in parentheses, with the number of pledged delegates up for grabs (all charts are from FiveThirtyEight unless otherwise noted), with more delegates being awarded today than any other day, over one-third of the total pledged delegates in the Democratic nomination process (for comparison, check out delegate and vote totals from 2016 and the below maps):

2016 Democratic nomination results; Wikipedia; Spartan7W (top) and Ali Zifan (bottom)

American Samoa (6) and Democrats abroad (13)

One tiny U.S. territory and Democrats abroad are not U.S. states, so their contests get little attention and are kind of mini-wild cards.  That being said, American Samoa went decidedly for Clinton (even though it was and still is a caucus) and Democrats abroad went decidedly for Sanders in 2016.  With no polling data available, I would guess the best bet is something akin to what happened four years ago but substituting Biden for Clinton, but who knows, so do not place a strong bet on these relatively minor contests.

Who knows?

Vermont (16)

As far as states, only Alaska and Wyoming have fewer delegates.  Bernie should obviously win his home state by a very wide margin, the question is whether he will sweep or will Biden get a sizable minority of delegates in a way that would embarrass Bernie?  With only a few recent polls, there is not much data to go on, but Bernie will win and by a sizable margin.

Bernie wins easily, but can Biden get any delegates?

Maine (24)

Bernie trounced Hillary here in 2016, but this was also a caucus back then, and, as I have noted before, the abominations known as caucuses heavily favor Sanders by their nature, amplifying dramatically the voice of the passionate over pragmatic, colder voters; now, Maine has a more fair primary.  Bernie was way ahead in the polls here, but that was with Bloomberg doing well and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg doing well, too.  With Bloomberg fading and Pete and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar—both moderates clogging up Biden’s moderate lane—both dropping out and endorsing Biden, Biden might actually be competitive here.  Sanders should be favored but don’t count Biden out here, especially with Sen. Elizabeth Warren from nearby Massachusetts (perhaps now strategically, in a self-sacrificing way) clogging up Bernie’s “progressive” lane and Bernie’s polling average being under 30% even in the lead.  I imagine Warren’s staying power will be far larger here and in other states relative to Bloomberg, but if Bloomberg does well (which I am doubting), expect Bernie to win here.

Ostensibly great for Bernie, but Joe could surprise

Utah (29)

Sanders demolished Clinton here in 2016, but this was also a caucus, so, as with other caucus states that are now holding primaries, expect his numbers to be closer to earth.  There are only a couple of polls here, so the picture is murky, with Sanders generally having a healthy lead but not breaking 30%.  With a now-mostly consolidated moderate wing backing Biden, this state could go either way, even though Bernie seems to be favored by analysts, but I would bet a lot of that has to do with the 2016 vote.  Biden is much more open about his religious faith than Clinton was, so the deeply religious Mormons may appreciate this about Biden over the more secularized Sanders.


Arkansas (31)

Only a few polls have been out for Arkansas, but they showed way more people supporting moderate candidates and Bernie was not high on the list.  Bernie does not do well with Southern whites, and this is the state the Clintons led for years, so, along with having a sizable black population, this is not fertile ground for Bernie and Biden should do very well here.  Sanders, on the other hand, was clobbered here by Clinton in 2016.

Biden is a very clear favorite

Black population by State 2020-World Population Review

Oklahoma (37)

Only a few recent polls had Biden and Bloomberg doing well, Sanders not so much.  With Bloomberg fading quickly, Biden should take from him in addition to adding support from other candidates who just left the race.  It is also a pretty white state (favoring Sanders), but is, more specifically, Southern white (which has not worked for Sanders).  Sanders might do better here than other Southern states, but that is a pretty low bar.  Yet Sanders did beat Clinton by 10 points, so don’t be shocked if he pulls off an “upset” based on limited data, especially if Bloomberg does well (though I doubt that will happen); it could be close.

Clear edge Biden, but don’t count Bernie out with so little data

Alabama (52)

This state has a very large African-American population, and, notably, Sanders skipped the 55th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday this weekend, the only major candidate not to attend, which could hurt him with black voters even more, especially in this state, at a time when he desperately needs to make inroads with that community; skipping Selma this weekend is just one of many tone-deaf moves by Sanders throughout his career (hello Fidel!).  Clinton demolished Sanders here in 2016 and this year’s result does not look to be much different for Sanders.

Huge win for Biden here

Tennessee (64)

Clinton dominated Sanders here, and with a sizable African-American population, it is hard to see Sanders winning this time around, either.  Though some late polling had him close, with the moderates consolidating, Biden should win comfortably, even with bad weather and a tornado hitting Nashville last night perhaps depressing turnout.

Pretty big win for Biden

Colorado (67)

Bernie trounced Hillary here in 2016, but, here again, we have a state that abandoned caucuses in 2016 for a primary in 2020.  Yes, it’s a pretty white state Bernie did well in but, once again, Bernie is polling here on average under 30% (far below his support in 2016) and moderate consolidation makes this race competitive, as it’s hard to see where a massive increase in support would come for Bernie with the moderates consolidating.  If Bloomberg doesn’t tank, Bernie has a much better chance, but I seem Bloomberg tanking.


Minnesota (75)

Sanders handily beat Clinton here, but back then, the state had caucuses and now it is a primary.  He was basically tied in polling with Klobuchar here, but with her dropping out along with Buttigieg and both endorsing Biden, Biden will be competitive.  But since Klobuchar’s tying with Bernie is likely more because of her being a local than ideology, perhaps a decent amount of her supporters go left and buck her endorsement of Biden.  Don’t count Joe out but definitely an edge for Bernie.

Close but edge to Bernie

Massachusetts (91)

Bernie and Warren are neck-and-neck here, but Biden should finish well, too, with all that moderate consolidation.  And yet, Massachusetts is, literally, the most liberal state in the country according to Gallup (with Bernie’s neighboring Vermont being the third most-liberal) so you would think Bernie would be doing better here… Still, I suspect that, in fact, because of moderates consolidating, a number of Warren voters will shift to Bernie for strategic reasons.  Warren was even less popular than her home state’s Republican governor in the 2018 elections so favoring her here does not seem like the better bet.

Edge to Bernie with Biden having a decent third place

Virginia (99)

With Northern Virginia being the government and politics crowd, Biden in a known and respected pillar of DC, and I have it from an impeccable inside source that absentee voting in Arlington, VA, is twice as high as in 2016, with more absentee votes still being counted, and that’s solid Biden country.  The state also has a loyal and sizable African-American constituency that even stuck by Gov. Ralph Northam through his blackface scandal. Biden should win big, especially with Bloomberg fading and moderate consolidation.

Big win for Biden

North Carolina (110)

With a large African American population and great recent polling for Biden, for many of the reasons he will do well in other states, expect Biden to win big here in North Carolina.  Not any good signs for Bernie, unless you think Bloomberg will be competitive, which I don’t.

Huge win for Biden

Texas (228)

This is the third-largest delegate haul in the country, only behind California and New York.  Results from Nevada suggest that Bernie is dominant with Hispanic voters, and, until recently, the most recent polls had Bernie with a decent lead.  But few pundits have pointed out how the caucus system there may very well have overrepresented his support with Latinos (normally difficult to poll), just as they overrepresent Sanders’s support in general, as was clearly the case with African-Americans (28% for Bernie in Nevada versus a more representative 17% in South Carolina), and I suspect this will be the case with Latinos; while it does seems Sanders has made solid inroads with Latinos since Hillary Clinton dominated him with them in 2016, the Texas primary will be the first real test of this.  If I am correct and his edge with Latinos shrinks or even disappears in Texas (and other primary states), Biden should win Texas (even if Sanders does better than Biden with Latinos, expect serious support for Biden from them, too.  And while Latinos are a huge minority in Texas, there is a solid African-American minority of about 11% of the state’s population there (and a much larger portion of the state’s Democratic primary electorate).  And with Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and former Texas U.S.-Representative-and-Senate-and-presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke all endorsing Biden yesterday in Texas, Biden’s numbers will exceed his polling.  Hillary trounced Bernie in 2016 here, and with dynamics the way they are, it’s looking good for Biden, too, even if it may be fairly close.

Biden should win here, though the margin could range from slight to solid

California (415)

By far, the biggest prize in the nomination calendar has, until recently, looked to be decidedly pro-Bernie.  But with recent events, his recent dominant polling is deceptive, and a few late polls are already showing a Biden surge, which I thought was likely after South Carolina and especially likely after the Buttigieg endorsement, let alone the Klobuchar one; these surges in a few recent polls are data-points in favor of a much closer race in California.  Hillary won comfortably in 2016, and Biden has a real chance of catching Sanders.  Still, Sanders should be considered a favorite, especially considering how California is a state that has had massive amounts of early voting for some time during Sanders’s earlier peak, and Biden’s nadir, after New Hampshire and Nevada.  Still, those expecting a Bernie blowout of Biden are likely to be disappointed.  As I noted in my last piece, who gets the nomination would come down to California: if Bernie could blow out his competition there, it would be hard to catch him if he got nearly all its 415 delegates.  But, with Biden looking a lot closer and even having a shot at winning, it seems at best Bernie’s delegate lead there will be solid but not huge even as he is crushed in other key states in the South on Tuesday.  If early voting was less intense, it would look even better for Biden, but if Bernie wins by a more-than-modest margin, early voting will likely be the determining factor in that larger margin.  Bernie should win, but probably not by a ton, and Biden has a real probability of surprising, but especially with early voting happening in force expect Bernie to at least eke it out but probably do better than eke.  In the end, a good chunk of delegates should still go Biden’s way here either way.

Bernie should win, but not with the decisive win he needs, yet don’t count Biden out, either

Conclusion: Great News for Biden and Democrats, Bad News for Bernie and Trump

I was vainly trying to get this out last night, where I had the same overall feelings about how these races today would go, but new polling out this morning has only confirmed what my instincts were telling me as soon as Pete bowed out: Biden’s got this.

Looking at just about any state poll that came out before the last few days, you can add at least 10 points to Biden’s numbers, give-or-take, factoring in the Buttigieg and Klobuchar endorsements and that those endorsement will intensify an already increasing Bloomberg defection.  If you don’t believe me, Pete was averaging 10%, Amy 5%, in national polls as late as March 1st, with Bloomberg at 15%.  That’s 30% combined, so don’t be surprised if Biden can even add 15-20% in numerous places to his numbers from March 1st (10% is more conservative and I’m covering my ass to allow for early voting and human stubbornness, but it’s hardly unrealistic to think that one-half to two-thirds [or more!] of that bloc of support defect[s] to Biden on Super Tuesday votes cast today).  Add to all that the fact that there are serious percentages of undecided voters that will likely break for Biden as in South Carolina, and I expect Biden to do WAY better than his polling until just the last couple of days.

A few key points:

  1. Bernie’s large edge with Latinos from Nevada will likely not translate to that degree since caucuses are not representative of larger voting populations
  2. Biden should get a large portion of the (especially) Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and (even) Bloomberg support (even with him still in the race)
  3. Undecideds should break heavily for Biden
  4. California was Bernie’s one chance to run away with it in the delegate race and it is pretty clear that is quite unlikely now
  5. Biden will crush Bernie overall in the South, making up for any difference in delegates between him and Bernie in California
  6. States where Bernie will/could do his best are far smaller in delegate-count than the ones where Biden will do his best
  7. Final Point: Biden should dominate Super Tuesday and should be on a clear path to the nomination after today

Thus, it very likely seems Bernie has already peaked and peaked early, just like in 2016.  His inability to win over African-American voters or less liberal whites means he, once again, was fairly doomed from the start if the moderate lane consolidated enough in time, which is exactly what happened this weekend.  There will be no revolution, and a nominee toxic to so many moderate and independent voters will not hand Trump an easy victory.  I’m already hearing anecdotally that more than a few people who voted Trump in 2016 will vote for Biden in 2020.

Thanks goodness for practical African-American voters, rescuing the left from itself two election cycles in a row.

I know I made a bold claim here as to the quality of my predictions, but my predictions in the 2016 cycle—from recognizing Trump as a threat way back in August, 2015, to seeing the Russian threat in July, 2016, from noting Clinton was obviously going to be the nominee after Nevada and Trump after South Carolina, to seeing how much of a threat Bernie Sanders and his supporters were as far as damaging Clinton, and in seeing Clinton as more vulnerable in the general election against Trump—proved to be far more prescient than most.

After tomorrow, the Democratic Party will very likely have fended-off an extremist hostile takeover and can present a sane, rational alternative to Trump that will not terrify many and will have broad appeal that can cut into Trump’s coalition.  There will be no risky revolution, but we have a shot to build on solid progress from the Obama years and other previous Democratic presidents, and, more importantly, a far better chance to stop a literal madman named Donald Trump—one with overtly fascist tendencies and operating extraconstitutionally—from destroying the American republic.  Exhale…

See my related article from before the South Carolina primary where I laid out the above scenario: Democrats Look Disastrous, But Biden May Yet Save Them from Themselves Starting in South Carolina

In the interest of full disclosure, Brian interned for Joe Biden from September-December, 2006. He is currently in no way professionally affiliated with the Biden 2020 campaign, nor is receiving any compensation from it nor the Democratic Party nor any related super-PACs, campaigns, or other political groups involved in the 2020 nominating contests and elections.

.Photo courtesy of the author; GO JOE!

© 2020 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

Brian E. Frydenborg is an American freelance writer, academic, and consultant from the New York City area. You can follow and contact him on Twitter: @bfry1981.  He also just recently authored A Song of Gas and Politics: How Ukraine Is at the Center of Trump-Russia.

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