What is Super Tuesday?

“Super Tuesday” is the name given to the biggest day of the U.S. primary election season.

Before the presidential campaigns can actually begin, members of the two political parties -- Republicans and Democrats -- need to select their presidential candidates. This is done using a long, confusing process in which every state gets a chance to vote for the hopefuls of their choice.

Each year, on a Tuesday, there is a day where many states carry out their primary elections at once. Because so many people vote on Super Tuesday, it can often be a make-or-break situation for candidates.

When did Super Tuesday begin?

The phrase was first used in 1980 when three states held their contests on March 11. In 1984, that number grew to nine, and in 1988 that number ballooned to 21 states holding primaries on the same day.

The largest Super Tuesday was in 2008, when a whopping 25 states went to the polls on Feb. 5.

How about this year?

This year, 12 states will hold their primaries on March 1:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska (Republican caucus only)
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado (Though the Republicans won’t vote at their caucus)
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

(Democrats in American Samoa will also head to the polls.)

How does the election process work, exactly?

Basically, each state gets a certain number of “delegates” for each party, roughly correlated to population size. The percentage of votes each candidate earns corresponds to the number of delegates they win in that state.

Overall, there are about 4,763 Democratic Party delegates and 2,472 Republican Party delegates to be won. The candidate who secures a majority of those delegates will be the presidential nominee for their respective party.

Is it that simple?

Not exactly -- there are a few confusing things about the process.

For example, instead of primary elections, some states have “caucuses.” A primary election is similar to a general election in that voters fill out their ballot in secret, and then those votes are tallied to determine the winner.

Caucuses are public assemblies where voters are allowed to express their support for candidates, and votes are often done by a show of hands, or by breaking into groups.

Votes in caucuses and primaries don’t always proportionately translate into delegates, either -- some states are “winner takes all.”

And about 700 of the Democrats’ delegates are “superdelegates.” As opposed to regular delegates, these superdelegates aren’t bound to the popular vote, and can back whichever candidate they choose. Superdelegates are generally party leaders, and are free to switch their vote at any time.

And the actual presidential election is…?

Not until November 8, 2016.