Decision 2016: “Western Super Tuesday” results

Last night, Republicans held their Presidential contests in Arizona and Utah, while Democrats voted in Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. What was interesting about last night contests was that a combination of very long lines at the polls (some polling places in Arizona had 3-4 hour waits) and the contests’ all being held on Mountain Time meant that the media only focused on the Arizona contest, and this limited focus distorted the narrative of last night’s contests. So what actually happened?

Democratic contest

At press time last night, all that the media reported was Hillary Clinton’s big win in Arizona (58-40% over Sanders). This was not unexpected: Arizona (especially within the universe of registered Democrats) has a substantial Hispanic voter population, and it is a closed primary contest, meaning that the 37% of the electorate who is not affiliated with either political party couldn’t participate in last night’s Presidential balloting on either side.

However, Arizona was only part of the story: Idaho and Utah (which have smaller Hispanic voter populations), overwhelmingly favored Bernie Sanders: he carried Utah 79-20%, and Idaho 78-21% over Clinton.

And here’s the irony: even though the media crowned Clinton the victor based on her Arizona win, Sanders’ overwhelming wins in Idaho and Utah meant that he actually got about 20 more delegates from last night’s contests than Hillary Clinton did.

This “split decision” therefore means that both Democratic candidates got something from the contests last night: Hillary got the lion’s share of favorable coverage, while Sanders’ delegate edge from last night’s contests keeps the race going. It also doesn’t hurt Sanders that all of the Deep South (whose black majority Democratic voter electorates have been solidly for Clinton) has voted. This means that Sanders will soon be competing on more favorable turf.

Republican contest

The timing of the reporting of the Arizona and Utah results also benefitted Donald Trump: he defeated Ted Cruz in Arizona by a substantial margin (47-25%), and since Arizona Republicans have a “winner take all” rule, Trump “won the news cycle” last night, although it’s worth noting that a substantial number of early votes were cast before Marco Rubio withdrew from the race, and he in fact received 18% of the vote – nearly twice what John Kasich received and close to the Cruz total.

Utah was a different story: Ted Cruz finished first with 69% of the vote, followed by Kasich with 17%, and Donald Trump in third place with 14% – apparently, Donald Trump’s controversial remarks have had little appeal to the state’s large Mormon population.

This “split decision” (winning Arizona while losing Utah) in total benefitted Trump, since he ended up with 58% of last night’s delegates. Kasich, however, had a bad night, although he is about to get an assist from the primary calendar: for the next two months, the only states having contests will be northern/Midwestern states. His problem is that his performance up to this point makes it mathematically impossible for him to get enough delegates to get the nomination.

Ted Cruz has a similar problem (getting enough of the remaining delegates to win), but he also faces a different obstacle: until Indiana holds its contest on May 3, the next series of contests will be on terrain unfriendly to a conservative candidate.

And while Donald Trump is in the driver’s seat, he has not yet been able to establish dominance in the race by winning 50% or more in primary/caucus contests. It will be interesting to see if this changes as the contests move to Northern/Midwestern turf in upcoming weeks.

Looking ahead

For both sides, the tempo of the nominating contest is about to slow down, although Democrats have three more contests this weekend in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington State. After that, Wisconsin votes on April 5. Two weeks later is the April 19 New York primary, culminating with a “Northern Super Tuesday” on April 26, when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island all vote on the same day.

While the Democratic contest is largely settled, the Republican contest still has some life to it, and upcoming contests will finally establish whether the Trump vote is a large plurality or an actual majority of Republican primary voters.