Super Tuesday is the election day early in a United States presidential primary season (February or March) when the greatest number of U.S. states hold primary elections and caucuses. More delegates to the presidential nominating conventions can be won on Super Tuesday than on any other day, amounting to approximately a third of all delegates. It is therefore a strong indicator of the likely eventual nominee.
The particular states holding primaries on Super Tuesday have varied from year to year because each state selects its election day separately.
Tuesday is the traditional day for elections in the United States. The phrase Super Tuesday has been used to refer to presidential primary elections since at least 1976. It is an unofficial term used by journalists and political pundits.
In 2020, Super Tuesday will occur on March 3. Fourteen state primaries and the American Samoa caucuses will take place, amounting to 1357 pledged delegates—33.8% of the nationwide total.
United States politics are dominated by two major political parties, the Democratic Party and Republican Party, which choose their presidential candidates in nominating conventions attended by delegates from states. State law determines how each party’s delegates are chosen in each state by either a primary election or a caucus and on what date those contests are held. State governments or state party organizations choose the date they want for their states’ primary or caucus. With the broadened use of the modern presidential primary system (following the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago), states have tried to increase their influence in the nomination process. One tactic has been to create geographic blocs to encourage candidates to spend time in a region.
One motivation for the creation of Super Tuesday has been criticism and reform proposals of the current primary system, many of which argue for creating a National Primary or a regional primary, such as the Rotating Regional Primary System adopted by the National Association of Secretaries of State in 1999, among other proposals.
1984: Beginnings of Super Tuesday
The 1984 primary season had three “Super Tuesdays”. Decided on “Super Tuesday III” were delegates from five states: South Dakota, New Mexico, West Virginia, California and New Jersey.
The proportional nature of delegate selection meant that Walter Mondale was likely to obtain enough delegates on that day to win the nomination at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, no matter who actually won the states contested. Gary Hart maintained that unpledged superdelegates that had previously announced support for Mondale would shift to his side if he swept the Super Tuesday III primary.
Hart committed a faux pas, insulting New Jersey shortly before the primary day. Campaigning in California, he remarked that while the “bad news” was that he and his wife Lee had to campaign separately, “[t]he good news for her is that she campaigns in California while I campaign in New Jersey.” When his wife interjected that she “got to hold a koala bear”, Hart replied that “I won’t tell you what I got to hold: samples from a toxic waste dump.”
While Hart won California, he lost New Jersey despite having led in polls by as much as 15 points.
Mondale secured the majority of delegates from the primaries, leading the way for him to take the Democratic nomination. In the 1984 Republican Party primaries, incumbent President Ronald Reagan was the only candidate to secure delegates.
1988: Southern states primary
The phrase “Super Tuesday” was next used to describe the primary elections that took place on March 8, 1988, in the Southern states of Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia leading up to the 1988 United States presidential election. In the 1988 Democratic Party primaries, Southern Democrats came up with the idea of a regional primary in an effort to nominate a moderate candidate who would more closely represent their interests. However, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, and Michael Dukakis split the Super Tuesday primaries, and Dukakis was subsequently nominated. George H.W. Bush secured most of the delegates in the 1988 Republican Party primaries. From 1996 to 2004, most of the Southern primaries were held the week after Super Tuesday, on a day dubbed “Southern Tuesday” by news commentators.
In 1992, after losing earlier primaries, Democrat Bill Clinton won several Southern primaries on Super Tuesday en route to winning the 1992 Democratic nomination and later the presidency. On the other hand, incumbent George H. W. Bush, faced opposition from Pat Buchanan in the Republican primaries that year.
In 1996, Super Tuesday was on March 12. Bob Dole swept Super Tuesday en route to his bid for the 1996 Republican nomination. Clinton, the incumbent president, secured all the delegates in the 1996 Democratic primaries.
In 2000, Super Tuesday was on March 7. Sixteen states held primaries on Super Tuesday, the largest presidential primary election day in U.S. history up to that point. Approximately 81% of Democratic delegates and 18% of Republican delegates needed to secure nomination were up for grabs. Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush cemented their nomination bids with Super Tuesday victories, and both went on to win their parties’ nominations.
Seven states held caucuses or primary elections on Mini-Tuesday in 2004.
In 2004, several states moved their presidential contests up to February 3, 2004, in order to increase the relative importance of their election results. Five states held primaries and two held caucuses and the day was eventually nicknamed Mini-Tuesday or Super Tuesday I by pundits, with the traditional March Super Tuesday date, March 2, christened Super Tuesday II, or just “Super Tuesday.” While the results of Mini-Tuesday had far-reaching implications for the Democratic primaries, the Republican primaries were uncontested as incumbent President George W. Bush was the presumptive nominee.