Q&A: Super Tuesday

Your guide to the GOP contests happening across the US on Tuesday.

Q. Which states are holding GOP primaries or caucuses tomorrow, and how many delegates does each state award?
Caucuses:
Alaska, 27 delegates
Idaho, 32 delegates
North Dakota, 28 delegates

Primaries:
Georgia, 76 delegates
Massachusetts, 41 delegates
Ohio, 66 delegates
Oklahoma, 43 delegates
Tennessee, 58 delegates
Vermont, 17 delegates
Virginia, 49 delegates

Q. How many delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday?
437 delegates are in play.

Q. Where do the candidates stand going into tomorrow's primaries and caucuses?
Mitt Romney - 203 delegates
Rick Santorum - 92 delegates
Newt Gingrich - 33 delegates
Ron Paul - 25 delegates

Q. How many delegates are needed to secure the GOP nomination?
1,144 delegates are needed to win the party's nomination.

Q. Why does Super Tuesday matter so much?
Super Tuesday matters for different candidates depending on their position in the delegate count. The longer the GOP nomination process rolls on, the less time the eventual candidate has for the general election election, and for this reason, Mitt Romney hopes a strong showing will all but seal the deal for him

For Rick Santorum, Super Tuesday is an opportunity to catch or overtake Romney in the delegate count, or at least take a large chunk out of Romney's lead. Santorum has been surging over the past month - although he has lost momentum of late - and hopes to continue his charge tomorrow.

For Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, sitting in distant third and fourth place, Super Tuesday, with its hundreds of delegates up for grabs, is an opportunity for both candidates to make upward moves. Candidates distant in the delegate count have historically viewed Super Tuesday as an opportunity to make up serious ground.

Q. Why do so many states (10) choose to have their primaries on the same day?
Early primary states have more sway in determining the nominee than do later ones. Candidates spend enormous amounts of time and money in Iowa - the first caucus - and New Hampshire, the first primary. States after New Hampshire and Iowa have historically had less and less impact the farther into the election process they have voted. Over the last two decades, states have been moving their primaries and caucuses earlier and earlier in order to have more impact on the nominating process.

Super Tuesday is the first real test of a candidate's popularity nationwide, and thus many states choose to hold their primary or caucus on that day, in order to play a part in the electability test.

Q. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were on ballots on Super Tuesday 2008 (5 February). How did each fare four years ago?
Romney won 7 states (176 delegates). Of the states voting tomorrow, Romney carried Alaska, Massachusetts and North Dakota in 2008.

Paul did not win any contests four years ago.

*John McCain won 9 states (511 delegates) and Mike Huckabee won 5 states (147 delegates)

Q. Which are the key battleground states tomorrow?
Georgia, the state awarding the most delegates, is very much up for grabs. Newt Gingrich was a US House representative from that state 1979 to 1999, and could see a very strong showing there.

Ohio - seminally a battleground state in general elections, particularly in 2004 Kerry versus Bush - will be telling. With the question of general election electability being more and more tossed around, and with the GOP looking to find its best candidate for the November general election, Ohio's primary results will be crucial.

Ron Paul faces only one ballot opponent - Mitt Romney - in Virginia's primary. None of the other candidates collected the 10,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot.

Newt Gingrich could have a strong showing in Tennessee, another of the big southern states that vote tomorrow.

Idaho is one of the most conservative states in the US, and Gingrich and Santorum could both fare well there.

Q. What will the possible results tell us?
Newt Gingrich has pledged to stay in the race until the convention. His results in the more conservative states will tell us how appealing he is to the Conservative Right.

Mitt Romney is no stranger to Super Tuesday, and has to like his position this time around. Tomorrow will tell us whether Romney will be able to hold off charges from his more conservative counterparts and further separate himself from the pack.

Rick Santorum has surged into second place, and his results tomorrow will be crucial. He could emerge atop the delegate leaderboard or could fall well behind Romney. For Santorum, like Gingrich, courting the Conservative Right vote will be crucial.

Ron Paul continues to raise large amounts of cash despite having not won a primary or caucus. The future of his campaign should become clearer after tomorrow's contests.

Q. Which states follow Super Tuesday?
Over the week following Super Tuesday, Kansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, the US Virgin Islands and Guam hold caucuses and primaries, with 165 combined delegates up for grabs.

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Clinton and Trump: do presidential debates really matter?

The ability of the candiates to perform in front of the cameras is unlikely to impact the final result.

The upcoming televised presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated for many years. No doubt there are various surprises in store – this has been, after all, the most surprising of campaigns.

People will be particularly fascinated to see if Trump dials down his bombastic rhetoric and perhaps even adds some substance to the vague policy pronouncements he has made so far. To a lesser extent, many will also be interested in whether Clinton can add the necessary zest to what some consider her lacklustre style, and whether she can prove she’s made a sterling recovery from her recent bout with pneumonia.

It’s possible that some voters may in fact change their minds based on what they see in the two’s only on-camera encounters. And yet, barring a true disaster or devastating triumph, it’s unlikely that anything the candidates say or do will make much difference to the overall result.

This might not seem all that surprising for these two candidates in particular. Leaving aside how long they’ve both been in public life, social media and the 24-hour news cycle have put Clinton and Trump under incredible scrutiny ever since they announced their respective candidacies – and their every sentence and gesture has already been analysed in the greatest detail.

Trump in particular has received more free publicity from the networks and Twitter than even he could afford, and it’s highly unlikely that he will say anything that the US public hasn’t heard before. Similarly, voters’ impressions of Clinton are apparently so deeply entrenched that she probably won’t change many people’s minds.

Yet there are also broader reasons why presidential TV debates are less important than we might imagine.

Looking the part

Even before the media environment became as saturated as it is today, debates were rarely, if ever, decisive in presidential elections. The exception was possibly the very first TV debate in 1960, which pitted the then vice-president, Richard Nixon, against John F. Kennedy.

At the time, the election was so close that the young, relatively inexperienced but highly telegenic Kennedy was able to reap the benefits of putting his case directly to viewers. He was the underdog; a relative unknown in comparison to Nixon and so had more to gain from such national exposure. Nixon, as the establishment figure, had a lot to lose.

In the end, Kennedy’s narrow victory may well have been because of his debate performances. But his success also demonstrated another important feature of television debates: that viewers take more notice of what they see than what they hear.

Notoriously, television viewers responded very favourably to Kennedy’s film-star good looks, but were turned off by Nixon, who refused to wear make-up and looked sweaty and uncomfortable under the studio lights. In contrast, those who listened on the radio believed that Nixon had come out on top. It seems that viewers saw Kennedy as more “presidential” than Nixon, especially given his calmness under pressure. Kennedy did work hard to exploit some of Nixon’s weaknesses on policy, but in the end, that turned out not to be the point.

Kennedy’s success was one of the reasons that neither of his two successors, Lyndon B. Johnson and then a resurgent Nixon, participated in any such events when they were running for the presidency. Although some debates were held in the primaries, there were no face-to-face contests between presidential candidates in 1964, 1968 or 1972.

The next debates were held in 1976, another tight campaign. These yielded a notorious moment in the second encounter between Gerald R Ford and Jimmy Carter, when the incumbent Ford appeared to throw the election away with a poorly judged remark declaring that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. As myth has it, this gaffe stalled Ford’s polling surge; he ultimately lost the election.

Yet even this was not decisive. Although the comment did the president no favours, it’s highly debatable whether it in fact had an impact on the overall result; Ford actually closed the polling gap with Carter between the debates and the general election. People’s reactions to the debate had less to do with the substance of his remark and much more with the media’s constant replay and analysis of that moment, which continues to mar Ford’s reputation to this day.

Selective memory

This pattern has continued in the election cycles that have followed, as slips and awkward moments rather than substance provide the media with dominant themes. Many people recall vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle’s cack-handed attempt to compare himself to Kennedy in 1988, or George Bush senior’s ill-judged glance at his watch when listening to a question in 1992; few probably remember much about what policies they discussed, or whether, if they won, they carried them out.

If anything, the shortcomings of the TV debate format have become more pronounced in the current cycle. Although neither of the main candidates in this year’s election wants for national exposure, the primary debates have tended to favour the underdog and those who claim to be outsiders.

On the Republican side, Trump’s various moderate competitors were one by one hobbled and engulfed; Clinton, for her part, spent months slugging it out with her remarkably successful left-wing rival Bernie Sanders, never quite landing a televised knockout punch and ultimately only defeating him properly after six months of primaries.

While credible policy proposals seem to matter less than ever, things that would have once been considered catastrophic gaffes have become par for the course. Indeed, one could argue that Trump’s success so far is because he has built his campaign on half-truths and outright lies without care for the consequences.

So despite all the anticipation, this year’s debates probably won’t tell us very much about what will happen after the president takes office next January; the analysis will almost certainly focus less on what the candidates have to say and more on how they say it. Voters will no doubt tune in in great, possibly record-breaking numbers, but they’ll come away with precious little sense of what’s in store for their country.

Equally, the spectacles we’re about to witness might be pyrotechnic enough, but they’re unlikely to decide the result in November. And in the unlikely event that they do, it won’t be for the right reasons.

Andrew Priest is a lecturer in Modern US History at the University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.