But the coalitions that led these candidates to victory in Iowa and New Hampshire won’t be enough to get them through the hurdles ahead. Many of the most important states on Super Tuesday bear a greater demographic resemblance to Nevada or South Carolina than either of the first two states. If Sanders, Buttigieg or Klobuchar wants to win the nomination, they’ll need to quickly learn to shift gears and win new types of voters.
This graphic represents a simple demographic comparison between states. I found state-level data on race, education, voter ideology, geography, urbanization, past Democratic primary results and more (a full list of variables can be found here), calculated how similar each Super Tuesday state was to each of the four early states and highlighted the closest match. Like all distance metrics, this one is imperfect and involves subjective choices about which variables to use or toss. And it looks at overall demographics without making an adjustment for low-turnout caucuses. But despite these shortcomings, the results give us an intuitive sense of the states that can be grouped together.
On Super Tuesday, the candidates will have to face voters who are significantly different than the ones they’ve already appealed to in Iowa and New Hampshire. The biggest delegate prizes of the night, California and Texas, both have substantial Latino populations and fully incorporate major metro areas. That means they resemble Nevada — home to Las Vegas and a sizable Hispanic population — more than either of the first two states. North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama also differ from the first two, highly white states. Each of those states has a significant African American population and bears a greater resemblance to South Carolina, where Biden has been dominant in pre-Iowa polls.
If a candidate with a relatively white base, such as Buttigieg or Klobuchar, fails to expand, they’ll still have some opportunities to add to their delegate totals. Maine is highly white and relatively rural. And Minnesota, Klobuchar’s home state, has a Midwestern culture similar to Iowa’s. Utah and Oklahoma might also be more willing to give more votes to a progressive firebrand than some other Super Tuesday states: White voters and very liberal voters make up a solid chunk of the Democratic Party in both states, and Sanders won both by a solid margin in 2016. And it’s possible that any candidate could win Virginia or Colorado, which are similar to multiple early states.
But the real Super Tuesday opportunities lie in the South and Southwest. This may be a bigger issue for Buttigieg and Klobuchar than Sanders. Buttigieg and Klobuchar poll relatively well with white voters but haven’t shown much of a pulse yet in Nevada or South Carolina. Sanders has posted decent numbers in Nevada (though there’s not much recent polling), so he may have part of his strategy in the Southwest figured out. But he’s currently polling in the mid-20 percent range nationally and he’ll need to continue to expand his coalition with someone to win the nomination.
Sanders, Buttigieg and Klobuchar have made it out of the frying pan — they’ve emerged from the first two states riding high. But if any of them wants to be the nominee, they need to make it through the fire by expanding their appeal. And with former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg waiting around the corner and gaining in national polls, they’d best do so fast.