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Super Tuesday Preview: Can Anyone Stop Biden In Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee?

Today’s Super Tuesday, and while there will be a lot of focus on the really big states like California and Texas, every contest will matter if the race turns into a prolonged battle for delegates all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July — as seems likely. With that in mind, we’re going to take a quick tour through four Super Tuesday states in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.1

In each of these contests, former Vice President Joe Biden is favored to win statewide and in most delegate districts, though his edge varies quite a bit from state to state. So let’s run through what we know about each, going from largest to smallest by delegate count. (One important warning before we start: We have limited polling for these states, which means we don’t have a lot to go on outside of what the model figures based on data from demographically and geographically similar states. We also have little polling overall conducted after former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar exited the race and endorsed Biden. In other words, we don’t have a great picture of what to expect today — in any state, but especially in these contests; the model is therefore accounting for a lot of uncertainty, and you should too.)

Up first is Tennessee, where our forecast shows Biden with about a 2 in 3 (68 percent) chance of finishing first. Sanders has a 1 in 4 (25 percent) shot of carrying the state, and Bloomberg has roughly a 1 in 20 (5 percent) chance. Warren, too, has a small chance of winning (1 percent).

These candidates’ statewide performances will decide 22 of Tennessee’s 64 pledged delegates. Our model forecasts Biden to win 34 percent of the overall vote, on average, while Sanders and Bloomberg are not far behind at 27 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Lastly among the last four competitive candidates left in the race, Warren’s average forecasted share is 14 percent.

The Volunteer State’s other 42 delegates will be determined by the vote in each of Tennessee’s nine congressional districts. Who reaches the 15 percent mark in those seats and statewide will determine who wins delegates in Tennessee, as is true everywhere else. As things stand, our forecast suggests that Biden and Sanders are most likely to win at least one district, though Bloomberg is also in a good position to finish above the 15 percent mark across the state. Warren is right around 15 percent in most districts, so how much she outperforms — or underperforms — will determine whether she can get a piece of the delegate pie. (One other thing: We have no idea what effect the tornado strikes early this morning might have on the vote in some parts of Tennessee, particularly near Nashville, except that turnout might be lower in the affected areas.)

Biden and Sanders lead the Tennessee districts

Average forecasted vote share for the top four Democratic presidential candidates in Tennessee congressional districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 9:30 a.m. on March 3

District Biden Sanders Bloomberg Warren
TN-01 28% 30% 21% 16%
TN-02 29 30 20 16
TN-03 31 29 20 15
TN-04 31 30 19 15
TN-05 34 27 20 14
TN-06 30 30 20 16
TN-07 31 30 19 16
TN-08 35 27 19 14
TN-09 46 21 19 9
State 34 27 20 14

Most of the districts have pretty similar outcomes, except for the 9th Congressional District centered on Memphis. It’s a strongly Democratic, majority-black district, so Biden’s strength with African American voters — as seen in South Carolina — gives him a real boost there. Biden also has an edge in the only other Democratic-leaning seat in the state, the 5th Congressional District located around Nashville, which has a larger nonwhite voter base than any Tennessee district save the 9th. Bloomberg and Biden perform better or worse in most of the same districts, as they both tend to be stronger in areas with more voters of color and less wealth.

On the flip side, Sanders runs nearest to Biden in the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th Congressional districts — four of the six districts in Tennessee that are more than 80 percent white. He’s very slightly ahead of Biden in the 1st and 2nd, which represent eastern Tennessee along the North Carolina border. Just as Biden and Bloomberg’s projected vote shares at the district level are similarly stronger or weaker, the same is true of Sanders and Warren.

Next up on our tour is Alabama, where the model gives Biden his strongest chance of victory among this quartet of states. He has about a 11 in 12 (91 percent) shot at winning the Cotton State, while Sanders and Bloomberg have a 1 in 20 (5 percent) and 1 in 30 (3 percent) chance, respectively.

The candidates’ statewide vote shares will allocate 18 of Alabama’s 52 pledged delegates to the national convention, and it looks like Biden might be in a position to win quite a few of them. His average forecasted vote share is 44 percent statewide, well ahead of 21 percent for Sanders, 19 percent for Bloomberg and 12 percent for Warren.

Alabama’s remaining 34 pledged delegates are apportioned by the candidate performances in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. The model shows Biden is likely to carry every district in the state, while Bloomberg and Sanders are in a close fight for second in many of the seats. Warren looks a bit off the pace in Alabama, but she could hit 15 percent in a couple places if she overperforms her polling across the board. In particular, the 6th Congressional District looks like her strongest.

Biden is likely to win all across Alabama

Average forecasted vote share for the top four Democratic presidential candidates in Alabama congressional districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 9:30 a.m. on March 3

District Biden Sanders Bloomberg Warren
AL-01 43% 21% 19% 12%
AL-02 45 20 19 12
AL-03 43 22 19 12
AL-04 36 25 20 14
AL-05 39 23 19 14
AL-06 38 24 19 15
AL-07 51 17 18 9
State 44 21 19 12

Biden has a clear edge across all districts in Alabama, but most notably in the 7th Congressional District, a heavily Democratic, majority-black seat that has far and away the most delegates of any Alabama district (eight). As in other Southern states, Biden’s support tends to be highly correlated with the black share of the population in each district, as is Bloomberg’s. And here, too, Bloomberg’s projected vote and Biden’s projected vote correspond strongly to one another. The same is true of Sanders’s and Warren’s vote shares, with their strongest districts being the 4th, 5th and 6th Congressional districts from the northern tip of the state down into central Alabama. Each of those districts is whiter than the state as a whole (at least 70 percent), and in two of them (the 5th and 6th), at least 30 percent of the adult population has a college degree.

Shifting west to the meeting point between the South and the Great Plains, we have Oklahoma, which our forecast suggests is more competitive than Alabama but slightly less so than Tennessee. Here too Biden has the best chance of winning with about a 4 in 5 (78 percent) shot, but our forecast also gives Sanders about a 1 in 6 (18 percent) chance. Although she was born in Oklahoma, Warren only has a 1 in 50 (2 percent) shot of winning the state, the same chance as Bloomberg.

Our model’s average forecasted statewide vote shares show Biden out ahead with 34 percent, 9 points in front of Sanders’s 25 percent. Meanwhile, Bloomberg and Warren are both projected to get about 17 percent statewide.

Oklahoma’s other 24 pledged delegates will be allocated by the vote shares in each of the Sooner State’s five congressional districts. Based on our forecast, Biden looks likely to win each district while Sanders finishes in second. But both Bloomberg and Warren are projected to clear the 15 percent threshold in every Oklahoma district, so the Sooner State appears to be the most likely contest of the four we’re looking at here to deliver delegates from every part of the state to all four leading candidates.

Four candidates could get delegates out of Oklahoma

Average forecasted vote share for the top four Democratic presidential candidates in Oklahoma congressional districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 9:30 a.m. on March 3

District Biden Sanders Bloomberg Warren
OK-01 34% 25% 18% 17%
OK-02 35 26 16 17
OK-03 34 26 16 17
OK-04 34 26 17 17
OK-05 35 24 18 16
State 34 25 17 17

And that all four candidates could get a piece of each district speaks to the fact that Oklahoma’s five congressional districts are relatively similar demographically speaking. Moreover, Oklahoma has relatively small shares of black and Hispanic voters — around 10 percent or less for both statewide — and both groups, particularly African American voters, help explain some of the district-level variation in other states. One other demographic group to note is Oklahoma’s sizable number of American Indians — they also make up almost one-tenth of the state’s population — though it’s unclear if they’ll swing toward one candidate in particular.

Our last stop is Arkansas, which the model pegs as the most wide-open race out of the four states we’re analyzing here. Biden has the best chance of victory, with about a 7 in 10 (69 percent) shot of finishing first. Bloomberg has a 1 in 6 (17 percent) chance of winning, while Sanders has about a 1 in 8 (12 percent) shot. Warren has just a 1 in 100 (1 percent) chance.

Arkansas’s projected statewide vote shares are somewhat reminiscent of Alabama’s in that Biden leads while Bloomberg and Sanders are in a race for second. However, Arkansas is less of a sure bet for Biden. Warren is well back of the pack at 15 percent.

Arkansas’s remaining 20 pledged delegates are apportioned by the vote in the Natural State’s four congressional districts, but only one seat — the 3rd Congressional District — looks pretty close. Biden has double-digit leads in the other three seats but Bloomberg and Sanders are close behind in the 3rd. Warren does have a chance of getting to 15 percent across the board.

Biden looks strong in Arkansas

Average forecasted vote share for the top four Democratic presidential candidates in Arkansas congressional districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 9:30 a.m. on March 3

District Biden Bloomberg Sanders Warren
AR-01 37 24 22 14
AR-02 36 25 22 15
AR-03 29 25 25 17
AR-04 37 24 22 14
State 35 25 23 15

Biden’s bigger leads come in the three districts that are between 15 and 25 percent African American. But the 3rd Congressional District in northwest Arkansas — home to Wal-Mart — is less than 5 percent black, which helps explain why it’s the most competitive. It may be no coincidence that the 3rd is also Warren’s best seat, as it’s also the home of the University of Arkansas’s flagship campus in Fayetteville.

Taken together, these states don’t have much polling data to work with, but if Biden’s strength in South Carolina portends his performance in the South, we could see him racking up delegates here. But there’s also an opportunity for Bloomberg to pick up delegates and become a player in the race, too. Sanders has an outside shot of winning Tennessee and has his best chance of winning some districts there. If Sanders can win at least one of these states outright, that could help him not only win delegates but also run up the win count across the country on Super Tuesday. So definitely be prepared for surprises in these contests.

Footnotes

  1. Oklahoma may not be thought of as an out-and-out Southern state, but the Census Bureau places it in the South.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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