History of Super Tuesday: Why Is It Significant?

super tuesdayHISTORY OF SUPER TUESDAY

What is Super Tuesday, why is it called that, and what will it determine?

Super Tuesday is the US presidential primary election day on March 5 (this year), when the largest number of states in the country will have their primaries. This is significant this year, as these primaries will determine about one-third of all the delegates going on to the presidential nominating Conventions for the two major parties: the Democrats and the Republicans.

 

First: a Quick Civics Review

Primaries, or primary elections, are ways for voters to indicate their preference for their party’s candidate – or a candidate in general – for an upcoming election. In the United States, political parties control the method of candidate nominations for office.

Although voters across the country cast ballots for their preferred presidential candidate during the presidential primary season, it’s actually the delegates to the national party Conventions who select the presidential nominees for each major party. In the primaries, candidates need a majority of delegate votes at the convention to win the party’s presidential nomination.

primary electionsThis means that a person’s vote in a primary is not directly for the candidate, but for the delegates pledged or bound to a specific candidate. Or a voter may select “unbound” delegates – not tied to any candidate – so those delegates are free to vote as they wish on the Convention floor. (By the way, voting for unbound delegates rather than a specific candidate in the Primary is a way of voting “no confidence” in the leading candidate.)

After the first round of voting at the Convention, depending on state and party rules, some pledged and bound delegates become free to vote for any candidate on subsequent rounds of voting.

By the end of the Convention, the party has nominated their candidate for the November election.

There is one variation to this, however. While state and local governments run primaries, a caucus is run by the political parties themselves. A caucus involves voters dividing themselves into groups based on their preferred candidate and arguing for others to join. The numbers in each group determine how many delegates that candidate gets when the caucus concludes.

It’s all a bit more complicated than that, but suffice it to say, it’s the beauty and wonder of American elections. Tracking changes in the rules of primaries and caucuses is like staying current on Super Bowl overtime rules.

 

Where does the name Super Tuesday come from?

The term arose during the election year of 1976. Political pundits and journalists like to use the term to emphasize the importance of this single day in the election process.

Super Tuesday was an attempt to give states more influence in the primary system – due to a chaotic event that I’ll describe below.

In 1984, there were three Super Tuesdays, and the third Super Tuesday suggested that a candidate could obtain enough delegates on that day to secure the Democratic National Convention that year.

The 1988 Super Tuesday in March of that year led to the expectation that the southern states could influence the party and nominate a conservative favorite son. Campaign budgets exceeded $3M for two of the candidates. It was not entirely successful.

Beginning in 1996, most Southern primaries were held the week after Super Tuesday, which some journalists named “Southern Tuesday.”

But in 2008, the February Super Tuesday included 24 states, almost half the country. It represented over half the delegates to their respective national Conventions. Journalists called it “Super Duper Tuesday,” “Tsunami Tuesday,” or “Giga Tuesday.”

 

Is Super Tuesday always on March 5?

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Presidential Primaries and Caucuses by Month

 

No, the date varies from election to election because each state independently determines when they will hold their election. It usually falls in either February or March of the election year.

 

Is it the Most Important day in the Election Process?

No. As we learned in 2016, Election Day is the most important day in the election process. Super Tuesday is significant because it adds another data point for pundits to speculate about election outcomes.

Journalists love to make predictions about the election, even assigning percentages of certainty. But they were embarrassed to have given a 95% certainty to the candidate who lost the presidential election of 2016.

 

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Super Tuesday 2024 map

 

Nevertheless, Super Tuesday can be a strong indicator of the nominee for the presidential race for each political party. This year, it will include fifteen states and one territory, American Samoa.

 

Are Primaries Influential?

Sometimes, primaries play little to no role in selecting a party candidate.

 

August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago  

On March 31, 1968, following the New Hampshire primary and Robert F. Kennedy’s entry as a Democratic candidate, the incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he had decided not to seek his party’s nomination for President. Shock and elation were sent through the stunned electorate.

At that time, the Democratic Party controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. But when the incumbent President declined re-election, the Democratic ticket was divided among eight candidates, including those who had not participated in any primaries, like Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey was given Johnson’s delegates and collected others from states that held caucuses and were run by Democratic bosses.

Sadly, second-place Democratic candidate Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated just two months before the Convention. Because of Kennedy’s death, his delegates were left uncommitted. Consequently, several states sent competing slates of delegates to the Convention. This resulted in delegate credential fights on the floor of the Convention.

 

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Protesters filled the streets outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. AP Photo

 

The Convention and the country were in chaos

  • There was countrywide division over the continued war in Vietnam that overshadowed the political Convention.
  • Yippie (Youth International Party) threats in the media were taken seriously by Richard Daley, the Mayor of Chicago, who increased security measures.
  • On the Convention floor, news reporters Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite were roughed up by security guards. Mike Wallace and Edwin Newman were assaulted by the police.
  • On the streets, 10,000 demonstrators and anti-war protesters had gathered in Chicago, with police and the National Guard on alert.

 

Candidates jockeyed for position in real-time, while the Vietnam War Peace Talks were being held in Paris. Live TV coverage showed tensions on the Convention floor, with accusations pointing both ways. Inside, obscenities flew, and police and bodyguards jumped on the stage. Outside, police fired tear gas while riots ensued.

The outcome was that Humphrey won the Democratic Party nomination without having entered any of the state primary elections held across thirteen states. But he lost the presidential election to Republican Richard Nixon, who had won the nomination at the peaceful and orderly Republican Convention in Miami.

 

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Nixon “victory”

 

Conclusion

As a result of the chaotic 1968 Democratic Convention, heavy-handed mayoral pressure and contested delegates among the eight candidates indicated the need for significant changes to the delegate selection process and steps against the violation of voter rights. In America, primaries, caucuses, and Conventions continue to change.

 

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
billpetro.com

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

1 Comments

  1. Ted Manley on March 4, 2024 at 9:16 am

    Thank you! So much more than I first understood!

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