The Complete Idiot's Guide to Super Tuesday

Broad categorizations are an American specialty—after all, we are the nation of the Cosmo quiz, the seven highly effective habits, the red and blue state. In keeping with this tradition, it seems fitting that we break down the biggest primary day of the GOP race into an easily digestible taxonomy. Super Tuesday 2012: one day, four candidates, ten states, 434 delegates. Here's what you need to know.


Ohio, the Battleground

66 delegates

Who’s the favorite? Flip a coin. According to Five Thirty Eight, both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney both have a 50 percent chance of winning.

What to expect: Boasting a Great Lake and an unusual number of exotic animal preserves, Ohio also happens to be the marquee race of Super Tuesday.  

That's because—with the exception of Virginia, where only Romney and Ron Paul have qualified for the ballot—Ohio is the only swing state that votes on Super Tuesday, and its voters are demographic dead ringers for those that will come out during the general election in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana. In the 2008 Republican primary, 61 percent of Ohio voters had no college degree, 79 percent made less than $100,000, and 30 percent identified themselves as “very conservative,” (no numbers are available for the “severely conservative” vote that Romney has been trying to court as of late). Though the state is filled with waving wheat, its Republican electorate is decidedly white bread: 40 percent of voters in 2008 were white Evangelicals or born-again Christians, and 54 percent were under the age of 60.

A win for Romney in Ohio would go a long way to end the prevailing sense that he’s “in trouble” and would allow him to pivot to the center for the general election on a favorable schedule. A win for Santorum, on the other hand, would prolong the contest and give the former Pennsylvania senator some serious momentum.


The South, Social Conservative Stronghold

Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma (177 total delegates)

Who’s the favorite? Santorum, though Gingrich will surely capture his home state.

What to expect: We know that there are lots of different flavors of Southern, but when it comes to voting patterns, Republicans in Southern states tend to favor social conservatives. For many voters in the South, Romney’s moderation—and for many, his Mormonism—make the francophone former Massachusetts governor unpalatable. Indeed, Romney could become the first Republican nominee in decades to lack substantial support from voters in the South. 

At 76, Georgia has the most delegates of any state on Super Tuesday, and has been Newt Gingrich territory since the primaries began. As of March 1, the former House Speaker led with 38 percent support, according to the latest poll from Mason-Dixon. Because the primary is proportional, however, he won’t capture all of the state’s delegates, but if Gingrich wins, he’ll get enough to keep Romney or Santorum from significantly growing their totals.

But Gingrich isn’t remotely competitive outside of Georgia. Santorum is the official conservative candidate for Republicans in Tennessee (58 delegates) and Oklahoma (43 delegates). As of March 1, he maintains a substantial lead in these states with 34-percent support in Tennessee and 37 in Oklahoma. 


The Conservative Liberal Northeast

Massachusetts, Virginia, Vermont (104 total delegates)

Who’s the favorite? Romney

What to expect: These three are states where Romney maintains either a massive geographic or ideological advantage. Voters in Massachusetts (41 delegates) and Vermont (17 delegates) are picking up what Romney’s putting down. In Virginia, Mitt is basically the only game in town (Ron Paul is the only other candidate to share the ballot).

All these states distribute their delegates proportionately, but Romney is likely to win Massachusetts and Vermont by such large margins that this fact is irrelevant. According to a YouGov poll of Massachusetts, for example, he leads Santorum with 56 percent of the vote.

In the long run, Virginia (46 delegates) might prove to be important as a firewall; if Romney does poorly in the other Southern states, he can make up some of the loss with the delegates he wins in the Old Dominion.


The Small Caucus States

Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota (87 total delegates)

Who’s the favorite? It’s hard to predict the results of caucuses, but because of the low delegate count in these states, don’t expect much attention to focus on them.

What to expect: Everyone loves a wildcard, and that’s what the caucus states of Alaska, Idaho, and North Dakota provide in the Super Tuesday mix. Because of their low turnout and focus on activists, caucus states—in which nominees are selected in sometimes-rowdy gatherings in which candidates' lackeys make direct pitches to voters—are almost always tests of organizational strength. They’re hard to predict, which means extra vague bloviating from TV pundits—always a treat.

Romney, Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have campaigned in Idaho (32 delegates), but only Ron Paul has an office there. The state also has a large Mormon population—25 percent of its residents—and as such, Romney has a real shot at winning. Likewise, North Dakota (28 delegates) has seen substantial campaigning from Romney, Santorum, and Paul. 

Alaska (27 delegates) is something of an outlier. Ron Paul is the only candidate to visit the state during the campaign, and the independent streak that permafrost breeds in its population makes the state a good fit for his libertarian-brand of conservative politics. But everyone’s favorite former governor and reality show star Sarah Palin is a supporter of Gingrich, which adds a twist to the contest.


The Takeaway

While they’ve been neck and neck in recent weeks, Romney is the slim favorite over Santorum to come out of Super Tuesday. Though Santorum has received generous influxes of cash from super PAC donors recently, his campaign infrastructure is inferior to Romney’s, which could well make all the difference on the chaotic Super Tuesday map.

At the very least, Tuesday’s frenzy of democracy in action will provide a convenient All-Star break for a race that has fallen into a bumbling monotony. Bread, circuses, and pandering for the masses. Happy Super Tuesday.