In the United States this year, “March Madness” has very different definitions based on whether you are in the field of politics or basketball. In the latter, March Madness refers to the conference tournaments that determine the best college basketball team in the country. For those who follow politics, this year March Madness refers to the number of primaries that are scheduled to take place during the month of March – with over half the primary votes being allocated in that month alone. As states are able to independently choose the date for their primary, it is not always the case that March contains the most primary votes in a cycle. The only real tradition in this scheduling process is that Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are consistently some of the earliest states to hold their primaries. In addition to the schedule of these three states, something that is common for every primary season is Super Tuesday. This is the informal name given to the Tuesday that holds the most primaries on a single day. In 2008, Super Tuesday was held on February 8th. This year, Super Tuesday was on the first day of March. On that Super Tuesday, eleven states held Democratic primaries and allocated over 750 delegates. Eleven states also held Republican primaries, and allocated nearly 600 delegates. During the following week, six additional states held Democratic primaries bringing the total winnable delegates to slightly over 1300. Eight Republican states also held primaries that following week, bringing their winnable delegate count to just over 900.
While the first three primary states of Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire represent a wide range of demographics, the first week of March Madness was populated almost entirely by Southern states. On Super Tuesday, six Southern states held their primaries compared with two New England states and three Midwestern states. In the week following Super Tuesday, three additional Southern states held their primaries as well as three Midwestern states and two New England states. This gave Southern states almost half of the total primaries held in the first week, over 650 of the 1314 potential Democratic votes and over 560 of the potential 977 Republican votes. Results from these Southern primaries provide a true litmus test of how successful a given Republican candidate could be at winning the general election, as voters in the South overwhelmingly support Republican candidates for President. While winning in the South is also important for Democratic candidates in terms of the number of votes available, it is less important as an indicator of success in the general election. This year, most of the states that tend to vote for Democrats won’t hold primaries until the last week of March and into April. So the mentality of Republicans in the early weeks of March has been very much centered on creating momentum that carries them through until the convention. Democrats, on the other hand, are more focused on sustaining their campaign before the real tests of their electability occur later in the primary season.
With the conclusion of the first week of March Madness it has become clear who the primary party candidates will be for the Democrats and Republicans. While the Democratic candidates have been set at Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for a few weeks, the Republican candidates have narrowed to the point that they now consist of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich. However, it is not clear how much longer John Kasich will be staying in the race as he is currently in last place with slightly more than 10 percent of the votes that the front-runner Donald Trump has won. In fact, Trump has pulled away handily in the field of potential Republican candidates. Trump has gained over 200 southern primary votes since Super Tuesday, and won every Southern state not including Texas – the state that Ted Cruz represents in the Senate. In total, Trump has currently won 441 votes compared with 331 for Ted Cruz, 152 for Marco Rubio, and 53 for John Kasich. In addition to winning in Texas, Cruz also led the pack in Alaska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho, and Maine. Rubio, on the other hand, has won only in Minnesota so far while Kasich has yet to win first place in any state’s primary. In addition to rumors about Kasich’s viability, considerable talk has also been circulating about the viability of Rubio’s campaign given his weak showing in the early primaries. Both candidates will likely decide in the next few weeks how much longer they will stay in the race as the next major round of primaries occurs on the 15th.
On the side of the Democrats, Hillary Clinton remains the frontrunner so far largely due to her strong showing in the South. In fact, she won each of the nine Southern contests held so far. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders has only lost one non-Southern state by more than one delegate (losing by five delegates in Nevada). Not only has she been winning in the South, the average margin of Clinton’s victories in the South has been much larger than the margin of Sanders’ victories outside of the South. In addition, there have been more winnable delegates in the South compared to the North and Midwest, giving Hillary an inflated advantage in delegates. For instance, Texas alone has 222 delegates compared to 226 for Colorado, Minnesota, Maine, Kansas and Nebraska combined. Of those six states, Sanders won the 5 non-Southern states and only came away with 211 votes. Considering the same six states, while Clinton only won Texas she ended up coming away with 234 total votes. As mentioned previously, it is unclear how the remaining primary calendar will mimic the early states as we begin to move outside of the South. In total so far, the delegate count for the two candidates is 762 for Clinton and 552 for Sanders. This compares to a delegate count of 801 for Hillary Clinton and 739 for Barack Obama by the first week after the 2008 Super Tuesday primaries. Inpolls across the country Hillary still shows a strong lead over Bernie Sanders, though one that has consistently fallen over time. She also has strong leads in terms of polls for upcoming primaries, though given the shock of Sanders winning Michigan – where polls had him behind by 20 points – it is unclear how accurate these polls may be.
So far, the primary season has been both exciting and incredibly turbulent – especially for Republicans. The Republican Party is still trying to find a solution to the problem of Trump’s nomination, with negative ads ramping up and more resources being moved towards the campaigns of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. And while Cruz seems to be the clear runner-up to Donald Trump, it is still unclear if it is simply too late for anyone else but Trump to possibly gain the nomination. The Democratic side has certainly been less turbulent, but it has been no less exciting. Sanders continues to gain ground on Clinton in the hope for a repeat of the 2008 primary, in which the front-runner Clinton was usurped by a young Senator from Chicago. Clinton hopes to keep her current lead as primary states move out of the South and into territory more supportive of Sanders. One way or another, by the end of the month we should be down to four total candidates. And with just a few more major states before the conventions, we should have a strong sense of the party’s final nominee.