Experts weigh in on Tuesday’s decisive primaries

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidates, from left, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich debate take part in the Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Houston in Houston. Nancy Reagan spent decades protecting the legacy of her husband, but some of President Ronald Reagan's famous political advice appears lost among the White House candidates who embrace him as a guiding light. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich debate take part in a Republican presidential primary debate at the University of Houston in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Now that the dust has settled on Tuesday’s primaries, we’ve asked a few academics to chime in on what it means.

First, Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie:

After Bernie Sanders’ surprise primary victory in Michigan, many wondered whether he would be able to replicate that success in the Midwestern states participating in the March 15 primaries.  While Missouri is still too close to call at the time of this writing, it looks like Sanders was unable to replicate his success in Michigan and Minnesota.

This is notable in part because in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, African American support for Sanders was at least as robust as it was in Michigan.  Hillary Clinton still won the African American vote overall, but Sanders increased his black vote share in these states compared to his performance in the South.  For instance, Sanders did not win more than 20% of the black voter in a southern state (defined here as states that were part of the Old Confederacy).  However, according to current exit poll data, he won 28% of the black vote in Michigan and Ohio, 29% of the black vote in Illinois, and 32% of the black voter in Missouri.

So why does Sanders fall short if he is improving his vote share among blacks?  Part of the explanation may be in youth voter turnout.  Support by young voters has been at the heart of Sanders’ strategy.  Unfortunately, young voters tend to turn out at lower rates than their elders. So, even though Sanders has won the under 30 vote everywhere except Mississippi and Alabama, their support is offset by higher turnout among other age groups who have sometimes been more inclined to support Hillary Clinton. 

Michigan was a little different because in addition to stronger African American support, voters under 30 made up nearly the same proportion of the electorate as voters age 65 and older.  In Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, though, the proportion of voters over age 65 was about 30% larger than the proportion of voters under age 30.

This data can be instructive in many ways. First, it foregrounds the importance of voter turnout.  In close matches, the candidates with the best GOTV operations win.  Second, the data remind us of the importance of not relying on just one demographic group to win elections.  Increased African American support can help narrow the margins between Clinton and Sanders, but that alone does not guarantee victory.

And here’s a take on the Republican side from Josh Azriel, the Emerging Media Director at Kennesaw State University:

Beyond his Florida, winner take all victory, Donald Trump’s other victories were not necessarily as “HUGE” as he might have hoped.  Beyond Florida’s 99 delegates, he lost Ohio’s 66 delegates and splits the remaining delegates proportionally from Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.  Tuesday night was not a knock out punch for Trump but a steady march to the GOP convention in Cleveland. 

Moving forward, voters’ choices in the GOP are striking among the final three candidates.  Despite John Kasich’s Ohio victory, this is really a two-man race with Trump the favorite to either reach 1,237 delegates or come up just short.  Kasich and Ted Cruz need a strategy to run strong in the next three states: Arizona, Utah and Wisconsin over the next two weeks.  Arizona and Wisconsin is winner take-all and Utah is proportional with a 15% vote threshold to win delegates.  It’s time for Cruz and Kasich to step up their game even more to slow down Trump.   Cruz can continue to rack up delegates to keep the heat on Trump.  Kasich has a much longer road ahead of him to threaten Trump’s dominance of the race.

Marco Rubio left the race as a class act.  With Rubio losing his home state by a wide margin, he knew it was time to end his campaign. Rubio ended his campaign with a plea to conservatives to end the divisive spirit of the GOP campaign: “I ask the American people do not give into fear, do not give into the frustration” and reminded us we are all the sons and daughters of immigrants.  

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