In Summary

  • Analysis for The Conversation by Bryan Cranston, Swinburne University of Technology 

On Super Tuesday, voters from more than a dozen U.S. states voted in presidential primaries with important consequences for the candidates. We asked three scholars in different parts of the world to comment on the results and what they mean for the presidential race going forward.

What now for the Republicans?

Bryan Cranston, Ph.D. Candidate in Politics and History, Swinburne University of Technology

In 2015, political pundits universally agreed that Donald Trump could not win the Republican nomination. Following Super Tuesday’s results, it appears that everything we know about presidential nominating contests is wrong – Trump appears on the verge of becoming the Republican nominee.

Trump is not the unifying figure his party needs. While the polls were open on Super Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a stern rebuke implicitly aimed at Trump, saying that the Republican nominee – whoever it ends up being – needs to reject bigotry. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has a strong dislike of Ted Cruz, said the Republican Party may:

… have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump.

Late last week it was reported that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell had encouraged his Senate colleagues facing reelection to run ads distancing themselves and attacking Trump if they feel he is hurting their campaigns.

Two days later, the Senate’s number two Republican, John Cornyn, echoed McConnell. Later the same day, Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska with strong Tea Party backing, tweeted he would not vote for Trump and would instead look to support a third-party candidate.

The commonly held belief is that that Trump will lose badly in the general election. Republican senators are thus refocusing their efforts to be a bulwark against a Hillary Clinton presidency.

The Republican Party is in a state of utter chaos. At a meeting of Republican governors on February 20, Maine Governor Paul LePage disavowed Trump and called for his colleagues to do the same. Exactly one week later, he endorsed Trump’s candidacy. This highlights that major figures in the party don’t know what to do.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that conservative billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Charles and David Koch (who were prolific donors in 2012) have thus far failed to indicate any interest in this year’s contest, despite saying in January 2015 that they were prepared to spend US$900 million to elect a Republican president.

If this was any other year, the Republican Party would be rallying around their presumptive nominee, and preparing for a general election contest. Instead, could we see the first brokered convention since 1952? Or will 2016 resemble 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt led a major third-party bid to deny fellow Republican William Howard Taft reelection? Is this what Adelson and the Kochs are waiting for?

Regardless, 2016 looks set to be the most interesting presidential election in decades.

The role of the youth vote

Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director of CIRCLE at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Tufts University

This primary season, voters under age 30 have proven that they are both willing to vote even when it is inconvenient and poised to assert their influence on key races. Analyzing data from early contests in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina, my colleagues and I at CIRCLE observed two trends in youth voting.

First, young voters were overwhelmingly supporting Senator Bernie Sanders, and voting in high – but not record – numbers. On the other hand, Republican youth were coming out in record numbers but not rallying around just one candidate.

As Super Tuesday winds down, exit polls indicate that young Democratic voters had a strong showing and much of that was still motivated by their enthusiasm for Sanders. His surprise win in four states – Vermont, Colorado, Oklahoma and Minnesota – no doubt has to do with youth participation and enthusiasm. In all states except for Alabama, young voters chose Sanders over Hillary Clinton with comfortable margins – including the South, where he was expected to lose even among youth.

In Arkansas, where Bill Clinton served as governor, young voters stood out by choosing to support Sanders by 62 percent to 38 percent in spite of older voters’ strong support for Clinton. In Oklahoma, 80 percent of youth voted for Sanders. Tonight’s results suggest that Sanders’ appeal to youth potentially crosses race, gender, and geographical boundaries.

On the Republican side, young people are less decisive than older voters, who overwhelmingly went for Trump. Voters under 30 supported Trump in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. But they backed Ted Cruz in Arkansas and Marco Rubio in Virginia. And Cruz and Rubio shared the top spot in Texas.

Compared to Democrat youth, the Republican youth were a smaller share of the voters in today’s primaries, a result of the huge turnout rates by Republicans of all ages. In fact, the absolute number of youth who voted was at a record high – suggesting that young Republicans could be an important force in the general election.

Could Trump attract the odd Sanders voter?

Gina Reinhardt, Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Essex

After these results, it’s clear to most that Bernie Sanders’ run for the presidency will soon be over. His victories in Vermont and Oklahoma notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton is steaming toward the 2,382 delegates needed to win the nomination, and his chances of catching up to her are slim.

It’s easy to think that Sanders’ supporters will fall behind Clinton when he’s no longer in the race, but don’t be too sure. Sanders’ surprising success so far has been based on his criticism of the establishment, his pleas for common sense, and his appeal to individuals – small donors. Who else in the race purports to represent the same ideals? Donald Trump.

True, Trump and Sanders could not be more different on their views on immigration, wealth inequality, race relations or, indeed, what “common sense” actually is. But so far, the campaigns have not focused on actual policy prescriptions. The debates have been about broad ideas and catchy slogans. And in some of the broader strokes, Trump and Sanders are strangely similar.

Trump has focused on running as a Washington outsider; Sanders considers himself a socialist, until this year one of the most “outside” of traditional American politics a candidate could claim to be. And like Trump, Sanders proves his mettle by raising millions without attracting a lot of big donors.

Trump is running as a Republican, but many longtime Republicans doubt his loyalty to party ideals, and he has donated heavily to Democrats over the years. Sanders is running as a Democrat, but he holds his Senate seat as an independent. Crucially, as Yanna Krupnikov and Samara Klar argue, both Trump and Sanders:

… allow people to reject the establishment without having to leave their own party.

Certainly, a great many Sanders supporters will move on to Clinton, some of them happily. But others will wish they had a different choice. Perhaps Trump can pull a few his way. And if that seems far-fetched, just think of everything else that’s happened so far in this cycle.

Written by Bryan Cranston, Ph.D. Candidate in Politics and History, Swinburne University of TechnologyGina Yannitell Reinhardt, Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Essex, and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Tufts University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.