Super Tuesday is usually the most revealing day of the US presidential primary calendar, in which 15 states (and American Samoa) vote for their preferred presidential nominees. Frontrunners can stumble, dark horses can emerge and winners are crowned. Yet Super Tuesday 2024 is unusual in that most of its headline results have been predicted for months. As expected, Joe Biden and Donald Trump appear all but certain to face each other in an electoral rematch in November.

However, behind the headlines lie deeper trends and shifts in voter sentiment that hold clues for the upcoming general election. USSC experts provide their analysis on the key takeaways from a Super Tuesday that is remarkably unremarkable.

Dr Michael J. Green, CEO

Super Tuesday’s result makes it all but certain that Donald Trump will face off against Joe Biden. You’d rather be Biden right now: only 10 presidents have lost re-election bids since 1789, the economy is strong, and Trump may have won the primaries but has faced far more significant internal opposition than Biden — not to mention the chaos of Trump’s court cases. On the other hand, this will come down to a few swing states and anything could still happen. Buckle in…

Jared Mondschein, Director of Research

Trump is unlike any other politician in modern American history. His political resilience with GOP voters makes clear the country is in the midst of a historical change to party alignments. No longer will low taxes and business-friendly Ronald Reagan-inspired policies work for Republican politicians. Indeed it’s not clear that even policies themselves are what his supporters want as much as a fighter with whom they can identify. The Super Tuesday results show Haley is not that person to most Republicans.

Yet, while Trump’s supporters remain fiercely loyal, the Biden campaign is hoping the polarising former president activates the diverse “Never Trump” coalition even more. Biden has famously said “don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative”. Biden is now hoping the alternative in the 2024 presidential election is a man who energises a base of “Never Trumpers” just big enough to tip the scale by a few thousand votes in a few swing states. Haley’s losses today increase that likelihood.

Victoria Cooper, Research Editor

Biden has essentially won every delegate for the Democrat nomination so far and faces no major challenges to the Democratic nomination.

Rather than Super Tuesday, the State of the Union address on 7 March will be a key moment for the president. He must convince more than 18 per cent that his policies have benefitted the American people personally (40 per cent say Trump’s president has benefitted them personally). He needs to build enthusiastic momentum behind his prospective candidacy for re-election, not just decry the risks posed to democracy by his predecessor. The president needs a convincing message to win the hearts of American voters.

At this critical moment in the presidential election year, Super Tuesday doesn’t look to be a close race, but the general election certainly does.

Dr Gorana Grgić, Senior Lecturer in US Politics and Foreign Policy

With the Super Tuesday victories, former president Trump's growing influence on international affairs will become even more evident. The year ahead is seen as a period of uncertainty as allies and adversaries navigate the prospect of shifts in US foreign policy. The anticipation of Trump's potential return is reshaping foreign and security strategies spanning issues from climate policy and trade to conflict resolution. Foreign governments have already adopted strategies that either delay decision-making with expectations of negotiating better deals later if Trump returns or hedge against such an outcome. This is most visible in Europe where Trump's threat about the United States’ future in NATO has raised the greatest concern for the European alliance members and a call for action. Should Trump win in November, the Russian regime might, at least in the short to medium term, anticipate improved chances in its full-scale war against Ukraine, and this no doubt already informs its strategy today.

Professor Benjamin Reilly, Non-Resident Senior Fellow

Given the lack of uncertainty over the outcome of the presidential primary, it is worth giving attention to the down ballot races for Congress and the Senate. Over 80 per cent of individual seats in both are considered "safe" in Australian parlance for one party or the other, in part because of gerrymandering and malapportionment. Given this, in most races it is the primary not the November general election that is often the key contest.

The California Senate primary is a particularly interesting case. There, the real contest under California's unusual top-two primary system is for second place, given that the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. Current House Representative Adam Schiff (D) is the front-runner, and if elected today could be expected to win easily in November.

Schiff has followed a strategy pioneered by the Democrats in 2022: running ads boosting the conservative credentials of a Republican challenger who is seen as most beatable. In 2022, this was mostly focused on running ads subtly promoting the credentials of MAGA Republicans in more liberal states, who were then defeated handily at the general election. In California, Schiff has actually spent US$10 million of his campaign funds on TV advertising which elevates the name recognition of Steve Garvey, a 75-year-old former baseball star as the Republican candidate who has not actively campaigned himself.

Again, the strategy is to get Republican primary voters to choose a candidate who will be easily defeated in the general election. Call it cynical, but early results in California suggest that this is a winning strategy, as it was in other blue states in 2022.

Bruce Wolpe, Non-Resident Senior Fellow

No surprises tonight. President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump are dominant in their parties. Both will clinch the nomination in the coming days. But the Super Tuesday results have again shown that both face issues within their parties.

Trump continued to be confronted by persistent strength from Nikki Haley in key states: 30 per cent in Virginia, 30 per cent in Minnesota, and 23 per cent in North Carolina. She is even getting 20 per cent in Texas. This could put North Carolina in play for November. There were exit polls for GOP voters who said they won't guarantee their vote for Trump: in North Carolina, 35 per cent, Virginia 36 per cent, California 33 per cent. Indeed, where these Haley voters go in November will be very important to the outcome.

Biden is dominant among Democrats with a higher share of the vote — generally 90 per cent. Trump's big wins are in the 75 per cent range. But there were "uncommitted" votes in the 7-11 per cent range among Democrats in Colorado, Minnesota and North Carolina. Some of that is Gaza, some of that is Biden's age. So, like Trump, Biden has to corral Democratic votes that are going astray.

Super Tuesday was decisive for both men for the nomination, but not for the election in November.

Lester Munson, Non-Resident Senior Fellow

Be careful what you wish for. The Biden campaign’s main goal for three years has been to position former president Trump as their opponent. With Nikki Haley’s imminent withdrawal from the Republican nomination race, Biden’s team will have exactly what they want.

The challenge for Biden: he is now noticeably and consistently behind Trump in the polls. Can he drive a dollar-rich messaging campaign to defeat the former president in November? The general election contest effectively begins tomorrow with Biden’s State of the Union Address to Congress. Will his “everyman” messages in that speech resonate with voters? Will he overcome concerns about his age and possible cognitive decline?

56 years ago this month, President Lyndon Johnson stunned the world by announcing he would not seek reelection and left the fight to his vice president, Hubert Humphrey. On Thursday night, many eyes will be on Vice President Kamala Harris, sitting right behind President Biden, while he either launches his campaign against Trump or hands the baton to the next generation.