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CWU Political Science Professor Weighs In on Super Tuesday

Todd SchaeferCWU Political Science Professor Todd Schaefer says upcoming Super Tuesday, when 14 state primaries and the American Samoa caucuses take place, might be the single most important day in determining which candidate rises to the top in the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process.More delegates—1,357 total—or about a third of all delegates, will be won or lost on that date, he said.

“Since 1972, the nomination process and the rules adopted after the Vietnam War is now determined by candidates running in the primaries and caucus meetings,” Schaefer explained. “Grassroots partisans and, in some states even non-partisans, determine the delegate count.”

Schaefer, an acknowledged expert in American politics, teaches courses on campaigns and elections, the legislative process, the presidency, and public opinion and political communications, says, in theory, this makes the system very open and democratic.

“The US is unlike almost any other democracy in limiting the power of its party leaders and ‘elites,’” he added. “But, in practice, the role of geography, campaign finance, and mass media have a large effect.”

Shafer adds that the process rewards media buzz, fundraising, and organizational operations, and appeal in certain states which might not readily reflect the party or the country at large.

Because the US is governed under a federal system, both the processes for nominating major-party candidates, and electing one after the nomination, are decentralized and based on statewide—not national—votes. Presidents are chosen indirectly by how many votes they win in the Electoral College.

“Democrats are disadvantaged here because the number of votes each state is worth is determined by its congressional delegation, which is proportional to the population for the House, but equal in the Senate,” Schaefer said. “Rural states, which tend to be strongly Republican, get more relative weight than they deserve.

“It also means that states that are considered safe for each party are ignored in favor of ‘battleground’ or swing states, making a national contest really about a handful of places such as Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”

On Super Tuesday, Shaefer says the difficulty among the Democrat field is that the remaining candidates have major electoral strengths and weaknesses.

“So, any of them could win, and any of them could lose,” he said. “None of them is the consensus choice or the complete package.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,

EDITOR’S NOTE: Schaefer wrote an online opinion piece about Super Tuesday published Monday, March 2, in the University of Auckland, New Zealand, produced publication “The Big Q.”

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