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What You Should Know About Super Tuesday

Confused about what the heck a caucus is? Wondering what makes Super Tuesday so super? We've got you. Read all about it on CollegeXpress now!

Are you super confused about Super Tuesday (coming up on March 3!) and the primary elections? Not to worry—we’ll walk you through it. Here are answers to some common questions you may have about how caucuses and primaries work.

What’s the difference between a caucus and a primary?

When it comes to the presidential election, a caucus is a meeting of supporters from a political party gathering to choose whom they believe should be the candidate in a given election. This format allows participants to openly show support for candidates (picture voting by raising your hand in a room full of people). A primary, however, is a state-wide voting process in which registered voters cast their ballots secretly, just like in the general election.¹ Both processes share the goal of narrowing down the field of candidates for the presidential election by having delegates represent a desired candidate in the national nominating conventions. 

Primaries can be either open or closed. In an open primary, any and all registered voters can vote for any candidate of any political affiliation; even registered Independents can participate in either party’s primary. In a closed primary, voters may vote only for candidates from their registered party affiliation.

The purpose of the caucuses and primaries is to choose each party's presidential candidate. However, voters are not voting for a candidate directly. In order for a candidate to receive the nomination, they have to win delegates, or representatives, of party members in each state to send to their party’s national presidential nominating convention in the summer.

Related: Why and How to Seek Out Different Political Perspectives in College

What’s a delegate?

A delegate is a person selected to represent the interests of a state’s voters at the Democratic National Convention in July. Delegates are typically people who are regularly involved in their state's politics. When a candidate wins delegates in a state, those delegates “pledge” to vote for that candidate at the National Convention. However, since political parties are private organizations, they aren't legally bound to do so.²

In addition to delegates, states also have uncommitted delegates, called superdelegates, who are typically elected state officials.² Though superdelegates played a large part in the 2016 election, the Democratic National Committee has since scaled back their role. Democrats will have 771 superdelegates this year, all of whom can remain unpledged until the National Convention.

How do candidates win delegates?

The Democratic and Republican parties use different methods for determining how many delegates are pledged to vote for the various candidates at their national conventions, but each party has a finite number of delegates to be won in the primaries.

  • Democrats use a proportional method. Each candidate is awarded a number of delegates according to the number of votes they won in the primaries and caucuses.³
  • Republicans allow each state to choose either the proportional method or a "winner-take-all" method of awarding delegates, in which the candidate who receives the most votes from a state's caucus or primary gets all of that state's delegates at the National Convention.³

What’s the deal with Super Tuesday?

The first-ever Super Tuesday occurred in 1988. The Democratic Party set out to land a Democrat in the White House by concentrating primary voting in 11 Southern states and 21 states in all—on the same day.

"The motivation was two-fold: By creating a block of Southern states, those states hoped to increase their nominating power relative to the rest of the country. But the rest of the country was also seen as more liberal, too liberal for those Southern states," according to Christopher Beem, Associate Research Professor and Managing Director at the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University. "By increasing their influence, and by putting that influence early in the election process, the organizers hoped to make it more likely that the Democratic Party would nominate someone who was more moderate." ⁴

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as they had hoped, and many Southern states have since left the Super Tuesday primary. Other states have entered (and exited) in the years since. The states casting ballots this Super Tuesday together comprise 40% of the US population.⁵

Republican primary voters will cast ballots in every state except Virginia; the state Republican Party canceled its primary election and have instead selected to award all delegate support to President Donald Trump.⁵

Which states vote on Super Tuesday?

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

Related: US Colleges With the Most Political Diversity

Who’s on the ballot?

These candidates are on the ballot in every Super Tuesday state:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg
  • Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawai’i
  • Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

What’s at stake this Super Tuesday?

…1,357 of the Democrats' 3,979 pledged delegates. A candidate must win more than half of the 3,979 delegates—or 1,991 delegates—to secure the Democratic nomination before the convention. This is driven largely by the two most populous states in the country: California and Texas, allotting 415 and 228 delegates respectively on Super Tuesday.⁵

A candidate can’t win the presidential nomination based solely on their Super Tuesday performance, but it can certainly push them along. Considering 34% of available delegates are offered this Super Tuesday⁶, it could be a big push.

When do other states have their primaries? 


Primary Date⁷


Primary Date⁷


April 4 (D)


March 17 (D)


April 28


April 28

District of Columbia

June 2


March 17


March 24


April 4 (D)


March 10


March 17


May 5


February 3 caucuses


Ay 2 (D)


May 19


April 4


April 28


March 10


March 10


June 2


May 12


Feb 22 (D) caucus

New Hampshire

February 11

New Jersey

June 2

New Mexico

June 2

New York

April 28

North Dakota

March 10 (D);
Jan - March (R) caucus


March 17


May 19


April 28

Rhode Island

April 28

South Carolina

Feb 28 (D)

South Dakota

June 2


March 10

West Virginia

May 12


April 7


April 4 (D) caucus; 
Feb – March (R) caucus

Does your vote matter?

For decades, young voters have turned out at lower rates than older voters, particularly in midterm elections. But 2018 marked a turning point. According to Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life, young voters (age 18­–29) played a significant role in the 2018 midterms. Researchers predict that this group will likely shape elections in 2020 and beyond.

The primaries serve as a crucial step in the presidential election process, and your vote matters. Regardless of whether your state* participates in Super Tuesday, make sure to get out and vote in the primaries!

* Attending school out of state? Studying abroad? Find out about absentee ballots.

Any questions?

Politics can be confusing, but knowledge is power! We hope this information helped clear things up for you. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Let us know why voting matters to you by dropping us a line on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!


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About Abby Curtis

Abby Curtis

Abby Curtis is a freelance writer based in the Boston area. Writing is her favorite, with reading coming in second. She loves petting dogs (and cats, horses, bearded dragons, and so on). She also cooks and bakes a lot—hope you're hungry!


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