Just How Super Will Tuesday Be?
March 2, 2012
"Super Tuesday should be just another momentum-defining day, and if it is more important than the previous primary dates, it is largely due to hype rather than being a truly more meaningful set of contests," says Todd Makse, visiting asistant professor of political science.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Todd Makse has a variety of scholarly interests within the field of American politics, including state politics, voting behavior and political parties. He also has published research on the 2008 presidential primaries. With the 2012 primary season upon us—and the Super Tuesday contests up next—Makse assesses the fluid race for the Republican nomination.
What’s the biggest storyline for you headed into the Super Tuesday contests?
To me, the story of Super Tuesday is that it is less relevant than it normally is. Almost nobody believes that the contest will end on Super Tuesday—in fact, we’re unlikely to even see a narrowing of the field, due to the presence of two candidates with no reasonable probability of winning and whose continued presence in the race is largely symbolic. Moreover, the contests themselves are not nearly as meaningful as four years ago, when Super Tuesday included California, New York, Illinois and 20 other contests. This year there are only 10 contests, and three of the largest states are diminished in importance either because it’s one candidate’s home state (Georgia and Massachusetts) or because only some candidates (Romney and Paul) are on the ballot (Virginia). Really, Ohio is the only key contest. Super Tuesday should be just another momentum-defining day, and if it is more important than the previous primary dates, it is largely due to hype rather than being a truly more meaningful set of contests.
Mitt Romney scored a narrow victory in his home state of Michigan, where he won by a wider margin four years ago. Why was it such a close battle this time around? And is such a slim win by Romney actually a win for Rick Santorum?
It’s not straightforward to compare Romney’s vote total in 2008 and 2012. Four years ago, it was a three-way race and conservative voters in Michigan could select Romney without facing a conflict between ideology and home-state favoritism. Essentially, what happened this time is that Santorum won Huckabee’s voters, Romney won McCain’s voters and Romney’s voters split down the middle. That seems odd, but makes perfect sense when you consider the change from Romney being one of the more conservative candidates in 2008 to being the more moderate candidate in 2012. As to whether a slim victory is a win for Santorum, that’s in the eye of the beholder, as both sides are already trying to spin the outcome. But based on what we saw in 2008, my guess is that both voters and elites will give Romney more credit for the actual victory than they will give to Santorum for the moral victory.
The major prize on Tuesday will be Ohio. How do you see Romney and Santorum faring there? What other primaries are you particularly interested in?
It’s hard to gauge Ohio right now, because a ton of money is going to be spent there and it’s unclear whether winning Michigan will help Romney there. If I had to guess, I’d guess that Santorum will hold on, because I don’t think Romney has a natural base of supporters there. In terms of other contests, I think the narrative will more or less boil down to Ohio, but if I were Romney, I might put some money in Tennessee as an opportunity to win a contest in the South—because it has shown a propensity to elect establishment Republicans despite its fairly conservative electorate. And a poll released Thursday suggests that Tennessee may be in reach, but I’m not sure he will do so.
So far this primary season, Romney has been consistently at or near the top, with various candidates—most recently Newt Gingrich and now Santoum—taking turns as the Romney alternative. How long do you expect this jockeying to continue? What are the chances that Super Tuesday will leave us with one candidate left standing?
I think there’s no chance we’ll be down to one candidate after Super Tuesday. I think this is going to go on for a long time and that there’s a decent chance that no candidate has a majority of votes going into the convention.
Who do you ultimately see winning the GOP nomination, and how will that person fare against President Obama in November?
I think Romney will ultimately win, and I think there's a better chance of a still-unknown candidate winning than Santorum, Gingrich or Paul. Polling suggests that Romney's chances against Obama have been weakened, but I don’t think the current polling matters that much, because the election will ultimately be a referendum on President Obama. Romney is still a relatively “generic Republican" and would likely do little to change that dynamic.