Written by Matt Stevens
Yes, yes — we know the South Carolina primary comes first on Saturday. But like a successful sports team looking ahead to a big game, we want to start getting you prepared for Super Tuesday — the most important day on the Democratic primary calendar.
So when exactly is Super Tuesday, what makes it so “Super” and how did we even get to a place where we have a day with that title? Here’s what you need to know:
When is Super Tuesday?
Tuesday, March 3.
Explained: What is Super Tuesday?
Super Tuesday is the closest thing we have to a national primary. On March 3, more than a dozen states will hold primaries, as will Democrats abroad. The American Samoa Democratic caucuses are also set to take place.
Some of the states that will vote on Super Tuesday, like California and Texas, have enormous troves of delegates available for the taking. All together, there will be more than 1,300 delegates to the national convention at stake — about a third of the total available — and the most offered up on any single day of the primary.
And if you add the 155 delegates allocated from the early voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — by the time Super Tuesday has ended, almost 40% of the total delegate allocation will be spoken for.
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If one candidate opens a wide delegate lead, it could prove mathematically difficult for others to climb back into contention. As such, what happens on Super Tuesday could very well decide the race — or come very close to doing so. At the very least, the results that come out of Super Tuesday could winnow the field.
How did we get a ‘Super Tuesday?’
If you look at our presidential primary election calendar, you’ll notice that several of the Democratic primary contests are being held on Tuesdays. Technically speaking, we vote in presidential general elections on that day of the week in November because of a law that dates back to the 1800s. And the reason that we settled on Tuesday had to do with the fact that at the time, America was mostly a religious and agrarian society.
Sundays were a day of rest and worship and were therefore not good for voting. Wednesdays were often market day — the day for selling crops. And for many farmers, voting in town required travel time, so Mondays and Thursdays would not work. Thus Tuesdays ended up being one of the best and only options.
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“Super Tuesday,” however, is a fairly recent political development. New York Times archives contain a reference to “super-Tuesday” as early as 1976, in a political article that seems to suggest that at least three states voted in the Democratic primary that year on June 8. Later articles refer to a “Super Tuesday” in the Democratic primary of 1980, in which President Jimmy Carter was renominated, when on June 3, eight states voted. One article explained its genesis this way:
“In 1980, Carter-Mondale campaign strategists, wanting to give President Carter a chance to make a quick rebound should he lose the New Hampshire primary to his Democratic challenger, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, arranged to move up the dates of three Southern state primaries to one week behind the New Hampshire contest. Thus “Super Tuesday” was created in the South, with voters in Georgia, Alabama and Florida expressing their Presidential preference the same day.”
But what several articles call the “first” official Super Tuesday came on March 13, 1984, when nine states — Washington, Nevada, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Alabama, Georgia and Florida — American Samoa and Democrats abroad all voted. It was “the largest single harvest of convention delegates of the campaign,” The Times noted, adding that 511 delegates were at stake.
That delegate trove would continue to grow over the years in a tradition that would persist.
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