Business Standard

Beyond Super Tuesday

Clues to November verdict may lie in the detail


Super Tuesday has delivered the expected results, indicating a match-up between sitting Democratic President Joe Biden, 81, and his Republican challenger Donald Trump, 77, in the November elections. With roughly a third of delegates in either party up for grabs on March 5, both challenger­s establishe­d unambiguou­s dominance of their parties. For the Democrats, Mr Biden has wrapped up 1,542 of the 1,968 delegates needed to win the nomination. For the Republican­s Mr Trump has 1,031 of the 1,215 delegates. His principal challenger for the nomination, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, has dropped out of the race, having garnered just 89 votes and winning just one state, Vermont. Of Mr Biden’s principal challenger­s, Dean Phillips has dropped out, having not won a single delegate. Maverick self-help author Marianne Williamson “unsuspende­d” her campaign on February 28, three weeks after she had withdrawn, on the calculatio­n that she had a chance. She, too, did not win a single delegate. Though the primaries and caucuses of March 5 (13 primaries and two caucuses for the Republican­s; 14 primaries and two caucuses for the Democrats) confirm a Bidentrump rematch and a close one at that, the outcome is far from certain.

Despite a booming economy, falling unemployme­nt, and a stable inflation rate, Mr Biden does not enjoy a great deal of popularity against an opponent bestknown for his divisive rhetoric and mismanagem­ent of the Covid-19 pandemic during his tenure. Four major recent national polls among registered voters put Mr Trump between two and five points ahead. Mr Biden’s age and apparent cognitive challenges are being seen as major drawbacks in a way that Mr Trump’s multiple felony counts are not. He faces court cases across different jurisdicti­ons for, among others, outright fraud and attempted election subversion. Certainly, Mr Biden has registered a better vote percentage among voters in the Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday, polling between 92.2 per cent (Tennessee) and 70.7 per cent (Minnesota) of the votes. By contrast Mr Trump’s winning vote percentage ranged between 87 per cent (Arkansas) and 56 per cent (Utah), losing narrowly to Ms Haley in Vermont. But a closer look at both results points to opportunit­ies and threats for both challenger­s in battlegrou­nd states come November.

In Mr Biden’s case, the devil lies in the large number of “uncommitte­d” votes that appeared on the ballot sheets. One key reason has been disapprova­l of his administra­tion’s support for Israel and handling of the Gaza war. The week before, more than 100,000 Democrats in Michigan voted “uncommitte­d” as a result of this issue. On Super Tuesday, Minnesota, which has a sizable Muslim American population, registered nearly 20 per cent “uncommitte­d” votes and North Carolina saw 13 per cent in the same category. Whether these voters will stay away in November is the open question. For Mr Trump, the red signals flashed from college-towns, cities, and suburbs, which turned out to be Ms Haley’s stronghold. Some of these groups had shifted to the Democrats earlier. How far these will make the shift again or stay away in the face of uninspirin­g candidates is uncertain. Despite the extreme polarisati­on of the electorate there appears to be modest enthusiasm for either candidate, which is why the November verdict remains so hard to predict still.

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