Clearing the Field: How do Presidential Primary Candidates Win Big on Super Tuesday?


  • Colin Swearingen John Carroll University



Campaigns, elections, presidential primaries, public attention, Google Trends, media attention, polling, fundraising, endorsements


In presidential primaries, Super Tuesday elections play a significant role in winnowing candidate fields and establishing nomination frontrunners.  Despite their importance, scholars know little about why and how candidates win or lose the states comprising these events.  This study explores which factors help explain candidate performance in Super Tuesday primaries between 2008 and 2016.  Using pooled cross-sectional time-series analysis, the results indicate three key drivers of Super Tuesday success: candidate viability, public attention, and media attention.  These findings imply that presidential campaigns continue to be complex electoral events beyond the early primary states and suggest that underdog candidates can still win states under the right conditions.  Future research should explore the interrelatedness of these three critical factors.

Author Biography

Colin Swearingen, John Carroll University

Associate Professor

Department of Political Science


Abramson, Paul R., John H. Aldrich, Phil Paolino, and David W. Rohde. 1992. “‘Sophisticated’ Voting in the 1988 Presidential Primaries.” The American Political Science Review 86 (1): 55.

Adkins, R. E., and A. J. Dowdle. 2001. “How Important Are Iowa and New Hampshire to Winning Post-Reform Presidential Nominations?” Political Research Quarterly 54 (2): 431–44.

Adkins, Randall E., and Andrew J. Dowdle. 2005. “Do Early Birds Get the Worm? Improving Timeliness of Presidential Nomination Forecasts.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 35 (4): 646–60.

Adkins, Randall E., and Andrews J. Dowdle. 2002. “The Money Primary: What Influences the Outcome of Pre-Primary Presidential Nomination Fundraising?” Presidential Studies Quarterly 32 (2): 256–75.

Aldrich, John Herbert. 1980. Before the Convention: Strategies and Choices in Presidential Nomination Campaigns. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bartels, Larry M. 1985. “Resource Allocation In a Presidential Campaign.” The Journal of Politics 47 (3): 928–36.

———. 1988. Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

———. 1989. “After Iowa: Momentum in Presidential Primaries.” In The Iowa Caucuses and the Presidential Nominating Process, 121–48. Boulder: Westview Press.

Bradner, Eric. 2016. “Your Guide to Super Tuesday 3.” CNN, March 15, 2016.

Church, George. 1984. “A Big Bicoastal Finale.” Time, June 4, 1984.,9171,951132-1,00.html.

Cohen, Marty, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller. 2008. The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations before and after Reform. Chicago Studies in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Collinson, Stephen. 2016. “Trump, Clinton Score Major Victories.” CNN, April 27, 2016.

Donovan, Todd, and Rob Hunsaker. 2009. “Beyond Expectations: Effects of Early Elections in U.S. Presidential Nomination Contests.” PS: Political Science & Politics 42 (01): 45.

Ellis, William Curtis, Joseph T. Ripberger, and C. Douglas Swearingen. 2017. “Public Attention and Head-to-Head Campaign Fundraising: An Examination of U.S. Senate Elections.” American Review of Politics 36 (1): 30–53.

Fei Shen. 2008. “Staying Alive: The Impact of Media Momentum on Candidacy Attrition in the 1980--2004 Primaries.” The International Journal of Press/Politics 13 (4): 429–50.

Goff, Michael J. 2004. The Money Primary: The New Politics of the Early Presidential Nomination Process. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Gurian, Paul-Henri. 1993. “The Distribution of News Coverage in Presidential Primaries.” Journalism Quarterly 70 (2): 336–44.

Hadley, Charles D., and Harold W. Stanley. 1989. “Super Tuesday 1988: Regional Results and National Implications.” Publius 19 (3): 19–37.

Haynes, A. A., J. F. Flowers, and P.-H. Gurian. 2002. “Getting the Message Out: Candidate Communication Strategy During the Invisible Primary.” Political Research Quarterly 55 (3): 633–52.

Haynes, Audrey A., Paul-Henri Gurian, Michael H. Crespin, and Christopher Zorn. 2004. “The Calculus of Concession: Media Coverage and the Dynamics of Winnowing in Presidential Nominations.” American Politics Research 32 (3): 310–37.

Hinckley, K. A., and J. C. Green. 1996. “Fund-Raising in Presidential Nomination Campaigns: The Primary Lessons of 1988.” Political Research Quarterly 49 (4): 693–718.

Mayer, William G. 1996. “Forecasting Nominations.” In In Pursuit of the White House: How We Choose Our Presidential Nominees, 44–71. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers.

———. , ed. 2000. In Pursuit of the White House 2000: How We Choose Our Presidential Nominees. New York: Chatham House Publishers.

———. 2003. “Forecasting Presidential Nominations or, My Model Worked Just Fine, Thank You.” Political Science and Politics 36 (02): 153–57.

Mayer, William G., and Andrew Busch. 2004. The Front-Loading Problem in Presidential Nominations. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press.

Norpoth, Helmut, and David F. Perkins. 2011. “War and Momentum: The 2008 Presidential Nominations.” PS: Political Science & Politics 44 (03): 536–43.

Norrander, Barbara. 1992. Super Tuesday: Regional Politics & Presidential Primaries. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky.

———. 1993. “Nomination Choices: Caucus and Primary Outcomes, 1976-88.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (2): 343.

———. 2000. “The End Game in Post-Reform Presidential Nominations.” The Journal of Politics 62 (04).

———. 2006. “The Attrition Game: Initial Resources, Initial Contests and the Exit of Candidates During the US Presidential Primary Season.” British Journal of Political Science 36 (03): 487.

———. 2010. The Imperfect Primary: Oddities, Biases, and Strengths of U.S. Presidential Nomination Politics. Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation. New York: Routledge.

Rapoport, Ronald B., Walter J. Stone, and Alan I. Abramowitz. 1991. “Do Endorsements Matter? Group Influence in the 1984 Democratic Caucuses.” The American Political Science Review 85 (1): 193.

Redlawsk, David P., Caroline J. Tolbert, and Todd Donovan. 2011. Why Iowa?: How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press.

Reuning, Kevin, and Nick Dietrich. 2016. “The Effect of the Media on the Invisible Primary.”

Ridout, Travis N., and Brandon Rottinghaus. 2008. “The Importance of Being Early: Presidential Primary Front-Loading and the Impact of the Proposed Western Regional Primary.” PS: Political Science & Politics 41 (01): 123–28.

Schneider, Bill. 2007. “It Could All Be over after ‘Super Duper Tuesday,’” February 7, 2007.

Silver, Nate. 2014. “Is The Polling Industry Is Statis Or In Crisis?” FiveThirtyEight (blog). August 25, 2014.

Stanley, Harold W., and Charles D. Hadley. 1987. “The Southern Presidential Primary: Regional Intentions With National Implications.” Publius: The Journal of Federalism 17 (3): 83–100.

Steger, Wayne. 2013. “Polls and Elections: Two Paradigms of Presidential Nominations.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 43 (2): 377–87.

Steger, Wayne P. 2007. “Who Wins Nominations and Why?: An Updated Forecast of the Presidential Primary Vote.” Political Research Quarterly 60 (1): 91–99.

———. 2008. “Forecasting the Presidential Primary Vote: Viability, Ideology and Momentum.” International Journal of Forecasting 24 (2): 193–208.

———. 2015. A Citizen’s Guide to Presidential Nominations: The Competition for Leadership. Citizen Guides to Politics and Public Affairs. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Sullivan, John, and Michael Luo. 2008. “Romney Exits, Saying He Has to ‘Stand Aside for Our Party.’” The New York Times, February 7, 2008.

Summary, B. 2010. “The Endorsement Effect: An Examination of Statewide Political Endorsements in the 2008 Democratic Caucus and Primary Season.” American Behavioral Scientist 54 (3): 284–97.

Swearingen, C. Douglas. 2017. “Public Attention and Fundraising in the Invisible Primary.” In Midwest Political Science Association. Chicago, IL.

Swearingen, C. Douglas, Elizabeth Stiles, and Kate Finneran. Forthcoming. “Here’s Looking at You: Public Attention in Presidential Primaries.” Social Science Quarterly.

UPI. 1976. “Ford, Carter Head into Crucial Super Tuesday.” Lodi News-Sentinel, June 3, 1976.,3038734&dq=super-tuesday&hl=en.

Washington Post. 2016. “Super Tuesday State Results,” March 1, 2016.

Whitby, Kenny J. 2014. Strategic Decision-Making in Presidential Nominations: When and Why Party Elites Decide to Support a Candidate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Zukin, Cliff. 2015. “What’s the Matter With Polling?” The New York Times, June 20, 2015.