Breaking down Democrats’ Super Tuesday voting patterns

Breaking down Democrats’ Super Tuesday voting patterns

With 15 state primaries or caucuses down and 35 more to go pundits have made a persuasive case that Hillary Clinton now dominates and is likely to be the Democratic nominee. Nevertheless it still pays to follow the primary process to get a better sense of what populations are being reached by the candidates. 

Clinton’s 1034 committed delegates to Sanders’ 408, including super delegates, places her nearly half way to the 2384 delegates needed to win the nomination.

In fact, Hillary’s success is even more likely than Donald Trump’s on the Republican side, since the Democrats have only two remaining candidates while the Republicans have three candidates trailing Trump. It’s possible that the proportional share of delegates held currently by Cruz and Rubio, and the likely share that Kasich will get in his native Ohio and adjacent states, leaves open the possibility that Trump will come to the Republican convention with only a plurality. After Super Tuesday Trump had 319 delegates while all of his competitors had 376. If this pattern continues it could lead to a brokered convention.

By contrast a majority by one candidate is the only possible outcome in a Democratic race with only two competitors. But it still pays to follow the primary process to get a better sense of what populations are being reached by Clinton and Sanders candidates.

Overall trends

Public opinion is often volatile and could shift during the course of the campaign if there’s an economic shock or yet another mass shooting incident. One supposes that an economic downturn would favor Sanders’ critique of the economic elite, while a mass shooting might favor Clinton who has been a stronger advocate of gun control. However, this is highly speculative, especially since there appear to be some stable patterns of support.

On balance, it would appear that Sanders wins heavily among young people under 30 including young women as well as young men. Clinton is strongly favored by African-Americans and has even scored a higher percentage of the black vote in South Carolina than President Obama did in 2008. Sanders won a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote during the Nevada caucuses but generally lost among Hispanics to Clinton in the Super Tuesday states.

Sanders does well in states with mostly white population percentages like Vermont (94.3 %), Minnesota (85.3%) , Colorado (81.3%) and New Hampshire (94%). He also lost by less than 2% to Clinton in Massachusetts (83.2%) making this outcome similar to the virtual tie in the Iowa Caucuses a few weeks ago. Iowa is 91.3% white.

Clinton’s striking support by the black community reflects her ongoing and regular engagement with blacks rather than any negatives on Sanders’ part. He has already documented his leadership in civil rights demonstrations during his college years. He has also received a 100% civil rights report card from the NAACP. This means he voted their way on every civil rights issue that came before the Senate.

It is rather that Mrs. Clinton had far more experience with the black community as First Lady of Arkansas as well as in her role as First Lady of the U.S. African-Americans are familiar with her activism on issues concerning them. It is interesting that both Sanders and Clinton are currently in virtual harmony in stressing the need for inclusiveness and attacking the bigotry of Donald Trump. Should Trump win the Republican nomination his initial refusal to repudiate an endorsement from David Duke will surely encourage both Democrats and indeed many Republicans to associate him with racism and bigotry.

Clinton and Sanders will likely spend more time in criticizing Mr. Trump than each other since they will need to unify the Democrats at the end of primary season.

It’s in the details

South Carolina

While not a Super Tuesday state, it’s important to analyze South Carolina in the overall trajectory. Politico correctly said that Hillary Clinton walloped Bernie Sanders in South Carolina. She received 73.5% of the vote to Sanders’ 26%. More importantly she received 87% of the black vote to Sanders’ 13%. In his 2008 run against Clinton President Obama received only 78% of the African-American vote. This was a stunning victory that gave Clinton momentum going into Super Tuesday. On Super Tuesday, Clinton swept the South, winning in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. She also had a marginal victory outside of the South in Massachusetts.


While most of Clinton’s victories in the South contained some demographic that supported Sanders this was not the case in Alabama. Here even the 18-29 year olds supported Clinton, as did both whites and blacks, although blacks supported her in higher numbers.


Clinton’s sweep of Arkansas was nearly as complete as it was in Alabama. However, here Sanders did beat Clinton in the 18-29 vote. This is interesting because this was the Clintons’ home state for much of their lives, but 18-29 year olds wouldn’t have the same experience with Bill Clinton as their elders since they either weren’t born or very young when Clinton was governor.

Gender followed the same pattern as Alabama in that both sexes overwhelmingly chose Hillary, although women by over 70%. In comparison, in some states men supported Sanders more than Clinton. Here it was a clear Clinton win in every category. Again, we have the Southern state pattern of over 80% of the black electorate supporting Clinton. Sanders received about one third of the white vote as he did in Alabama.


Georgia was similar to Arkansas in that Clinton won overwhelmingly in all age categories except 18-29 year olds. She received 80% of the vote in both the 45-64 and 65+ categories.

Georgia was similar to other Southern states in that Clinton won over 80% of the black vote. Gender followed the same pattern with over 60% of men and nearly 80% of women voting for Clinton.


Even though it was the capital of the Confederacy, Virginia is not as prototypically Southern as some of these other Southern states. The Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. contain people from all over the U.S. The Tidewater area, because of the very large military presence, including the largest naval base in Newport, is also home to people from various parts of the country. Nevertheless the patterns were similar to other Southern states. There was also some additional data in exit polls dealing with party affiliation.

The youth vote of 17-29 year olds was even stronger than in other states with Sanders winning 69% of this vote. It was also closer among voters 30-44, with Clinton winning by 57%-43%. However the 45-64 and 65+ groups strongly supported Clinton with 72% and 85% victories.

Virginia followed the pattern seen in other Southern states with Clinton winning 76% of the non-white vote and 57% of the white vote. Clinton won strongly among Democrats with about 75% of the vote while Sanders received nearly 60% of the vote of those who identified as “Independents or other”.

Virginia’s importance is that it’s a swing state and therefore could be critical during the general election.


Tennessee was similar to Georgia and generally similar to other Southern Super Tuesday states. Sanders won over 60% of the 18-29 vote but lost heavily in the 45-64 and 65% categories with 82% of 65+.

Even more extreme than the other Southern states, Clinton won 90% of the black vote, but also 55% of the white vote. Clinton won 70% of women voters, but also 64% of men. Clinton won 74% of Democrats but Sanders won 54% of those who saw themselves as Independents or “other”.


Texas followed the general pattern of Sanders only winning in the 18-29 category, this time by 59%. Clinton won heavily in all other age categories, winning 75% of voters 45-64 at 87% and in the 65+ group with 87%. Clinton won among all racial groups in receiving 74% of Hispanics, 57% of whites, and 83% of blacks. She also won 61% Men and 70% of women. Sanders only won among independents but by less than other Super Tuesday states at only 52%


Oklahoma, like Texas, is both Southern and Western. Since it also borders both Texas and Arkansas one would have assumed a similar voting pattern. This would be incorrect, since Sanders won rather than Clinton.

Here, not only those in the 18-29 group voted for Sanders, but so did a majority of those in the 30-44 age group. In both groups Sanders won by substantial margins. He won 82% of those 18-29 and 75% of those 30-44. Sanders only did marginally worse among women in comparison to Clinton, but he also won overwhelming with men. There was also more support for Clinton among Democrats and more support for Sanders among independents or “other”.

A major difference here was that while Clinton won a large margin of the black vote, Sanders won a large percentage of the white vote and whites were more numerous than blacks. There were not enough Hispanics in Oklahoma to warrant a separate analysis.

The remaining races were in the West and Northeast where Sanders won overwhelmingly in his home state of Vermont, lost by less than 2% in Massachusetts and won Colorado.


Since Colorado was a caucus state there is no exit poll data like there is in primary election states. This means there is no demographic voting data. But, suffice to say, Sanders won by a large margin of 59% to Clinton’s 40%.


Sanders won his home state by 86%-14%. Since he has been a popular Mayor, Congressman and now Senator this is not surprising. This high victory percentage carried over all demographic groups, with women even supporting Sanders by 83% while men supported him by 91%. It would be redundant to look any further. It was basically “favorite son does well”.


This marginal victory by Clinton was unusual in light of Sanders’ strength in Vermont and New Hampshire. This could be a rural-urban issue, since Massachusetts is more urbanized than the other two states and therefore a bit more diversified. Interestingly Clinton’s strength came in the urban areas around Boston and Worcester while the Berkshires, Cape Cod, and other rural areas were for Sanders.

Sanders’ won in only the 18-29 age group, although he did so by 65%-35%. He lost in the 30-44 age group, even worse than in the 45-65 age group. As in the other races Clinton did extremely well among those 65+. Race did not play a role in the Massachusetts race since there were very small numbers of black voters who voted in the primary.


While there are regional differences like Clinton being favored in the South, and being favored by record percentages among blacks, both campaigns now have some guide to how they may improve performance in the next 35 races. Clinton obviously needs to reach out to 18-29 year olds and possibly to 30-44 year olds. Sanders needs to reach out to African-Americans and to older people in the population.

If Sanders specifies his economic message to appeal to both groups he could improve his chance for victory. However this is a long shot.

The support for Clinton in the African-American community is so broad and so deep that it’s unlikely to change. On the other hand she might want to play down the “first woman president” rhetoric, since this is well known and she needs more support among men outside of the South.

Again, surprises like those connected with the FBI email investigation or economic shocks could change matters, but these are relatively unlikely. Changes in appeals to key groups should be the major emphases within each campaign moving forward.

Categories: North America, Politics

About Author

Lawrence Katzenstein

Lawrence Katzenstein has taught at the University of New Orleans and the University of Minnesota. Through an affiliation with the Humphrey Institute he was one of the trainers for the initial Chinese WTO delegation. He has been an exchange professor at the Consolidated Universities of Shandong Province and an embedded social scientist with the U.S. Army in Iraq. He earned a B.A. in political science from CCNY and an M.A. and Ph.D in political science from Rutgers University. While at the University of Minnesota he also completed a teaching post doc in International Business.