If polling data holds true, Senator Bernie Sanders could score big wins on Super Tuesday in many of the 14 states up for grabs, including California and Texas, America's most populous and delegate-rich states.
The front-running self-described democratic socialist Sanders has polled well in all Super Tuesday battlegrounds, including the home state of a competitor. An average of recent public opinion surveys gives Sanders an edge over Senator Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. The poll also shows him nearly tied with Senator Amy Klobuchar in her home state of Minnesota, though she announced Monday that she is dropping out of the presidential race.
But Saturday's primary result in South Carolina foreshadows a likely bumpy ride for Sanders in southern states overall. The Palmetto State provided a badly-needed win for former Vice President Joe Biden, a moderate who served alongside Barack Obama, America's first black president. African Americans comprise the largest bloc of Democratic voters in the state and are a major constituency throughout the South.
Polling data show Democratic voters in the South, especially African Americans, tend to be more moderate than their counterparts in the northeast and the West Coast. For instance, a 2014 Pew study found that only 24% of Alabama Democrats identified themselves as liberal, while Gallup poll data from the same year showed 43% of Democrats across the nation considered themselves liberal.
The South's moderate Democratic leanings could also bode well for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg who, like Biden, wants to reform major American institutions, not upend them. Sanders, by contrast, wants the federal government to supplant private health insurance and guarantee free college education nationwide.
With 415 delegates up for grabs in California, and another 228 in play in Texas, Alabama's 52 delegates might not seem like a big deal. Taken in aggregate with delegates from Arkansas (31), North Carolina (110) and Tennessee (64), however, and a majority of these 257 delegates could make the difference between clearing Sanders' road to the nomination, and the moderate wing of the party finally rallying around a single challenger like Biden.
A frequent complaint of the first three primary-season contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, was that African Americans made up no more than 9% of each state's population — making them significantly more homogeneous than the country at-large. However, African Americans comprised 60% of the Democratic primary vote in South Carolina over the weekend. And diversity will become a key factor this week, as each of the southern Super Tuesday states have African American population percentages ranking in the top dozen. Alabama tops the group at 26%.
Many of the remaining candidates have claimed to build campaigns meant to appeal to a broad, representative electorate, and this Tuesday they will have their chance to prove it. Robert Coon, a managing partner and political consultant at Impact Management Group in Little Rock, says Arkansas, for example, "will include a mix of African Americans, liberals, moderates, and both urban and rural voters, that is much more reflective of the nationwide Democratic electorate."
Two other southern states, Virginia and Oklahoma, appeared to be promising territory for Sanders. However, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine's endorsement of Biden a day before the South Carolina primary may enhance Biden’s prospects in Virginia, where 99 delegates are at stake.
Ultimately, in states as diverse as these, the race may come down to turnout, says Jay Barth, professor of politics at Hendrix College in Arkansas.
"If the electorate on Tuesday skews younger, it could mean victory for Sanders," Barth explained. "If it skews more heavily African American, it will be good for Biden. And, if it skews older, I think Bloomberg will benefit."
No matter the outcome, this relatively small number of Southern Super Tuesday voters will play a major role in this next stage of the 2020 Democratic Primary.