A photo of a yellow caution sign that says \"SUPER TUESDAY AHEAD\"

Ahead of – and after – Super Tuesday, VCU political science experts offer insight into presidential race

They highlight aspects of Biden-Trump battle to watch in Virginia and elsewhere on March 5, and ‘Civil Discourse’ forum a week later will provide more context.

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Super Tuesday is just around the corner on March 5, when 15 states – including Virginia – will hold primaries that should further clarify the 2024 presidential ballot in November. A week later, amid the divisive rhetoric that now defines modern politics, a “Civil Discourse” event featuring Virginia Commonwealth University experts will offer insight and context as the national campaign intensifies.

On Wednesday, March 13, the 7 p.m. forum at James Branch Cabell Library (and livestreamed via Zoom) will feature Department of Political Science professors Alex Keena, Alexandra Reckendorf and John Aughenbaugh as they discuss, and field questions about, the presidential primary season and November election. The free event will be hosted by Nia Rodgers, public affairs research librarian at VCU Libraries and producer of the “Civil Discourse” podcast.

Roughly a third of each major party’s delegates to national conventions will be determined on Super Tuesday. But unlike some past nomination battles, this year’s landscape has fewer mysteries – but still room for analysis or even surprises.

Keena, Ph.D., an associate professor, expects an “unusually sleepy Super Tuesday’’ as President Joe Biden dominates the Democratic primaries and former President Donald Trump solidifies his grip on the Republican nomination. But Keena wonders if Nikki Haley could still show strength in regions where Trump has historically not performed well, including Virginia.

“[Trump has] never won a general election in Virginia with his name on the ballot,” Keena said. “So can he win on Super Tuesday? Does Nikki Haley pick up more support in Virginia? This seems like the place that she would have to win if she has a chance, so that will be really interesting.”

Reckendorf, Ph.D., an associate professor and associate chair of the department, said that Haley may be counting on Trump’s legal issues changing the landscape, but that he’ll likely have the nomination mathematically wrapped up, even if just informally, before the next time he’s scheduled to appear in a courthouse.  

“She just lost her home state [South Carolina] that elected her to be governor and generally approved of her and has favorable thoughts of her. But she’s not Donald Trump,” Reckendorf said. “And we’ve known that Donald Trump was going to be the GOP nominee for ages, and Joe Biden is going to be the nominee for the Democrats.”

Aughenbaugh, Ph.D., an associate professor, is keeping an eye on Super Tuesday’s voter turnout. He noted that Democrats having determined their presidential nominee so early would be expected with an incumbent, but polls indicate that segments of the party are not happy with Biden.

“This is a sort of early gauge as to the extent to which the American voting public is excited or interested in the upcoming election,” he said.

Two department colleagues of the forum trio also offered observations ahead of Super Tuesday.

Assistant professor Jatia Wrighten, Ph.D., noted that Virginia, with a Republican governor and Democratic-controlled legislature, is a purple state with open primaries – which could yield insight into how non-party-affiliated voters behave at the polls. And associate professor Amanda L. Wintersieck, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Democracy, Pluralism and Community Empowerment, is watching voter turnout not just by party but by subpopulation.

“Suburban women have been an important group in Virginia politics the last couple election cycles,” Wintersieck said. “They’ve gone back and forth [in supporting parties], and it’ll be interesting to see how they turn up, particularly given that we have more recent news out of Alabama … about reproductive rights. That may put that issue back on the top of the agenda for suburban women in Virginia.”