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How Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday ‘Win’ Relied on Dismal Voter Turnout

On the surface, Super Tuesday’s results may appear as if Democrats are starting to coalesce around Hillary Clinton. But when taking a closer look at how many voters actually showed up to the polls this year compared to the last time there was a Democratic presidential primary, the numbers tell a very different story that may very well have a bad ending for Clinton supporters — and all Democrats in general.

In all of the states that Clinton won, Democratic turnout was drastically lower this year than in 2008. Aside from Massachusetts, where Clinton won by 1 percent with voter turnout just 4.29 percent lower in 2016 than in 2008, all of Clinton’s wins relied on anywhere between 20 percent and 50 percent fewer Democratic voters going to the polls in those respective states. Democratic turnout as a whole was 32 percent lower on Super Tuesday 2016 when compared to 8 years ago:


Democratic voter turnout on Super Tuesday 2008 compared to Super Tuesday 2016

In the Southern states where Clinton racked up the biggest wins — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas — turnout was abnormally low. To make the above table, we used New York Times election results to compare 2008 Super Tuesday turnout with 2016 Super Tuesday turnout:

In the four states Bernie Sanders carried on Super Tuesday — Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Vermont — voter turnout was higher than in 2016 or comparatively high to the states Bernie lost. While turnout was lower in three of his four states, the margins are much smaller than in the states Clinton won. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Voter turnout for the 2016 Democratic caucuses in Colorado was 2 percent higher than in 2008, setting new records. Sanders easily won by 19 points, with help from winning the state’s considerable Latino vote.
  • Roughly 9 percent fewer Democrats voted in this year’s Democratic caucuses in Minnesota in comparison to 2008. Sanders won the state by a 23-point margin.
  • Sanders won by 10 points in Oklahoma this past Super Tuesday. Oklahoma’s Democratic turnout for this past Super Tuesday was 20 percent lower than in 2008.
  • As expected, Sanders won big in his home state of Vermont by a 73-point margin. Voter turnout was 13 percent lower when compared to Super Tuesday turnout in 2008.

As a whole, Democratic turnout was lower in almost every Super Tuesday state this year, but down significantly more in the South.

The simple, key point to notice is that the states where the decrease in voter turnout was the highest aren’t likely to vote for Democrats in a general election, and the one state where Democratic turnout was higher than before is a crucial swing state that’s a must-win for Democrats in a general election. And with the exception of Oklahoma, the states Sanders won are solidly blue and are in no danger of going to Republicans in a general election.

This same turnout trend bears out for earlier states as well — in New Hampshire, where Bernie Sanders won by 22 points, Democratic voter turnout was 13 percent lower than in 2008. And while Hillary Clinton thrashed Bernie Sanders by 47 points in conservative South Carolina, 31 percent fewer Democrats voted in comparison to the 2008 primary. When taking all of these states into account, it’s easy to conclude that Democrats have a huge issue with getting voters to show up for primary elections.

Furthermore, Hillary Clinton succeeds the most when voter turnout is the lowest. Sanders wins when turnout is highest. This is all common knowledge, of course, but think about the implication of all this in the general election.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are seeing a massive spike in voter turnout when comparing this Super Tuesday to 2008.

  • Nearly twice as many Virginia Republicans showed up to vote this year than they did 8 years ago, and they picked Donald “Drumpf” Trump over everyone else.
  • 1.38 million Texas Republicans voted in 2008, but 2.83 million Texans voted in this year’s Republican primary. And it’s worth noting that while John McCain won Texas with 709,477 votes in 2008, Trump placed second in this year’s Texas primary with 757,618 votes.
  • In Georgia, where Trump won by 14 percent, over 300,000 more Republicans voted this year than in 2008.
  • 8 years ago, 552,155 Republicans voted in Alabama’s Republican primary. This year, 856,166 Alabama Republicans voted, and overwhelmingly for Donald Trump — a 36-point increase in Republican turnout.
  • In Tennessee, Donald Trump beat his closest opponent by 14 percent, with 854,445 Republicans voting in total. In 2008, only 553,815 Republicans voted. This means Republican turnout in Tennessee increased by 35 percent from 8 years ago.
  • Trump won Massachusetts by an overwhelming 31-point margin. While 499,018 Republicans voted in the 2008 Massachusetts primary, 631,395 Massachusetts voters turned out for Republicans this year. This means Republican turnout in one of the bluest states in the country increased by 20 points over 8 years.

2016 has so far been a record-setting year for Republican primaries. The below graphic from NBC News shows the percentage difference between this year and previous GOP primary turnout records in each state. Most of these states voted for Donald Trump by large percentages:


Graphic from NBC News

When compared side-by-side, it’s easy to see that Donald Trump’s campaign is only picking up steam, and unless the remaining Republican candidates drop out in the next two weeks to rally behind one of their own who has the best chance at beating Trump, it’s likely the billionaire demagogue will become the Republican nominee.

In addition to all the above information, Bernie Sanders has consistently and repeatedly polled better than Hillary Clinton in general elections against Donald Trump, regardless of the pollster who conducts the survey. He polls even better than Clinton in matchups with either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. Before Democrats fill out their ballots in the next series of primaries this Saturday, they should really, truly ask themselves the question based on the best data available: Which candidate is best-suited to stump Trump in November?

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