Five Surprising Super Tuesday Predictions
Here are five surprising 2012 Super Tuesday delegate predictions, based on my analysis of Real Clear Politics polling averages, public opinion polls, straw polls, and recent events in the ten states voting tomorrow.
(The takeaway: Non-Romney candidates will have their moments in the sun… and then the Romney juggernaut will continue crushing everything in its path.)
Prediction #1: In almost every primary state, the candidate who wins the most delegates will win more delegates than all other candidates combined in that state
In other words, in each of the seven primary states (not the three caucus states, where anything goes), one candidate will almost always win more than 50% of that state’s delegates. This may seem unlikely, given the fractious nature of the 2012 GOP primaries, dispersed support for the remaining candidates, and the proportional nature of delegate allegation. However, these states’ apportionment systems are quasi-proportional, which means that large numbers of delegates end up going to the top two (occasionally three) candidates, and none to those who fail to meet a minimum threshold of 15% or 20% of the vote. An even larger haul goes to the first-place winner, even if he beats the runner-up by only a small percentage.
Prediction #2: Rick Santorum will win only two states, Oklahoma and Tennessee
Santorum leads the polls in these two southern states, but Romney’s ahead of Santorum in the other eight. Ohio’s too close to call but has been trending toward Romney since his Michigan victory. Santorum failed to submit complete paperwork for nine Ohio districts, which makes him ineligible for 18 state delegates. This means that recent polls showing him and Romney neck-and-neck may overpredict Santorum’s delegates relative to Romney’s. If Santorum takes Ohio, the deciding factor may be Operation Hilarity.
Prediction #3: Only Romney will win delegates in all 10 states—and he’ll win at least 10 in each state
Romney is second in the polls to Santorum in two states, second to Newt Gingrich in one, and on top in the other seven. Vermont has only 17 delegates, but Romney is heavily favored to win there. Ron Paul will do better in caucus states—Idaho (32 delegates), North Dakota (28), and Alaska (27)—but Romney should do well enough to pick up 10 delegates each. Second-place Santorum will win nothing in Virginia, where he’s not on the ballot, and possibly none in Idaho, where he received 0 votes in a Tea Party Straw Poll. For about half the states, Paul and Gingrich will pick up no delegates.
Prediction #4: Paul will win more delegates in Idaho than in the other nine states combined
Paul does better in small caucus states, where his well-organized operation is more influential (i.e. where his fanatical supporters can rig the vote). Santorum will likely be eliminated in early rounds of voting in Idaho, where candidates are dropped in successive rounds until one has at least 50% of the vote. Outside of the three caucus states, Paul should win at most five delegates, all in Virginia. Paul cleaned up in early caucus states, but he won’t be able to replicate that success in the proportional allocation states. He will likely be the only candidate who doesn’t win more delegates on Super Tuesday than he has won to date.
Prediction #5: After Romney’s rout on Tuesday, Santorum will still have at least half the number of Romney’s delegates and a quarter of all delegates awarded to date
Romney’s likely to clean up on Super Tuesday; Gingrich is far from his December polling highs; and Paul never had a chance of winning the nomination; but the race isn’t over, if only because the three also-rans are too stubborn to quit. It’ll be virtually impossible for Gingrich or Paul to reach the required 1,144 delegates to win—either would have to win about 75% of the remaining delegates. Santorum’s not likely to quit soon, even though he’d have to win two-thirds of the remaining delegates, which would be possible only in the event of a major Romney scandal or sudden shift in public opinion.
As Romney’s political director put it, Santorum’s showing on Super Tuesday will not “do anything to cut the delegate lead. He is going to fall further and further behind. It becomes a mathematical battle as much as it is a political one, and the math just doesn’t add up for Santorum.” (As one Santorum senior strategist put it, “The argument that math is on their side is uninspiring and laughable,” which just proves that the Santorum campaign doesn’t understand math.)
Note: For these predictions I used RCP polling averages, recent polls where averages were unavailable, and straw poll results. I made no firm predictions for fruity caucus state North Dakota, for which there was only a Tea Party straw poll last fall in which Herman Cain won and Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich didn’t even place; and nutty caucus state Alaska, for which there was only a poll from October 2010 with Mike Huckabee in first place. Nate Silver and Intrade were not consulted for this article.