Saturday, December 24, 2011

Republican Delegate Allocation Rules: 2012 vs. 2008

Let the questions be answered.

The RNC released yesterday the final piece of the puzzle in terms of how delegates will be allocated in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.1 Now, FHQ has been saying all along that, theoretically, the changes to the delegate selection rules would not affect states and subsequently the candidates and their efforts to win more delegates all that much. Again, theoretically. At issue has been whether a state had to in some way abandon either straight winner-take-all delegate allocation or a hybrid system with winner-take-all allocation of at-large (base and bonus) delegates and congressional district delegates for a more proportional method in states with contests before April 1. Some change was inevitable, but because the rules change was treated as black and white -- that Republican winner-take-all states now had to be proportional before April 1 -- the impact of the change has been consistently overstated.

Well, now the unknown is known and we can examine just how much of a change has occurred in state delegate selection rules relative to 2008. Since so many states shifted back the dates on which their primaries and caucuses will be held in 2012, the number of straight winner-take-all states -- those that allocate all of their delegates based on the statewide vote -- was fairly limited. Florida, Arizona, Vermont and Virginia were forced to depart from their past method of allocation. [Of course, already penalized for holding contests before the first Tuesday in March, both Florida and Arizona opted to continue with straight winner-take-all rules under the rationale that they could not be penalized further.] Still other states had winner-take-all allocation but had that split up between the at-large delegates and the congressional district delegates. That latter group of states had in place a set of rules that were already fit for a change. The straight winner-take-all states had a much greater move to make.

With that said, though, what have states done to comply with the new rules on delegate allocation? More importantly, what could states do to comply? Let's take the second question first. There are two main responses that states could have made to most easily comply with the new RNC rules.

One option is to simply keep the same old winner-take-all rules -- straight or hybrid -- and make winner-take-all allocation dependent upon one candidate clearing the 50% mark in the statewide vote. If no candidate reaches that level, the allocation is proportional. But even that has been interpreted to widely varying degrees. For a straight winner-take-all state like Virginia, they could have put in that threshold and moved on. However, for a hybrid winner-take-all state like Ohio, where the winner-take-all allocation is based on votes both statewide and within the congressional district, that sort of threshold was only necessary -- according to the RNC rules -- on the at-large (base and bonus) delegates based on the statewide vote.

The second option is for states to either just switch to straight proportional allocation or to shift to allocating the at-large (base and bonus) delegates proportionally, leaving the congressional district delegates to be allocated winner-take-all. FHQ has always operated under the assumption -- let's call it an unofficial hypothesis -- that state parties would do whatever is necessary to comply with these sorts rules changes, but make the least amount of change possible. That is why I say it is harder for a straight winner-take-all state than a state that already has the allocation split into statewide and congressional district votes. There are easier outs for the latter simply because they can stay relatively close to what they had previously than a straight winner-take-all state. Regardless, either type of state could, at a minimum, make the allocation of the at-large (base and bonus) delegates proportional and be done. At the opposite end of the spectrum, states could just make everything proportional and break with a winner-take-all past.

Fine, so what have the states done?

Well, in looking at the table below, FHQ has a few observations. The first, and perhaps the biggest, is that the states on the calendar through February have made no changes to their delegate allocation from 2008. They were already compliant with the 2008 method or were penalized for an early primary or caucus date and stuck with the 2008 rules knowing the RNC would not punish them further (...or daring the national party to do so). There is a chance, then, that if this nomination race resolves itself quickly, the rules changes will have no impact. Well, the new winner-take-all/proportional rules will not have had an impact. The new calendar restrictions -- no states before the first Tuesday in March other than the exempt states -- will play a bigger role in that scenario.

If, however, the race stretches into March, that is when we may start seeing the winner-take-all/proportional changes influence the race. Looking at the March states and matching 2012 to 2008, the most frequent response to the rules changes was for states to tack on a conditional element to their allocation rules. Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia -- all Super Tuesday states -- added a conditional element to their allocation rules. Winner-take-all allocation is dependent upon a candidate receiving over 50% of the vote, statewide and/or on the congressional district level.2 This is an important point. That 50% threshold is really going to play a role if the field has been winnowed down to just two candidates. Actually, FHQ has made this point before: The fewer candidates there are, the more likely it is that someone breaks 50% of the vote, and subsequently takes all the delegates in any of these conditional states. Those January/February states become very important. In fact, that lull throughout much of February may be a killer for any candidate clinging to just a modicum of viability at that point. Voters will start limiting their choices to those who are most likely to win and if the likes of Bachmann and Santorum and whoever are not already out, that stretch will be very difficult to survive through.

Obviously, in a scenario where there is a Clinton/Obama-type struggle for the 2012 Republican nomination, these rules are going to matter. But if Romney wins Iowa and wins where he is "supposed to" after that, the former Massachusetts governor will win the nomination and the rules won't play that much of a role. Looking at both the changes to the calendar and the changes the states have made, I can see something in the middle of those two extremes being most likely. The early contests get split, but it favors Romney, the February dead period puts significant strain on the candidates trying to stay in the race but without the resources to make it happen, and Romney breaks 50% in some of these conditional winner-take-all states on March 6. That would put a significant amount of pressure on any other candidates from a delegate math perspective. At that point, it becomes a matter of making up the delegate deficit for any non-Romney candidate. Some later winner-take-all contests would theoretically help, but there are very few straight winner-take-all states to completely shut out Romney as the calendar enters April. There are a handful, but likely not enough.

The bottom line is that there are no changes to the rules up front. Those start kicking in in March. But at that point, it could be too late for those changes to make any difference. If anything, history tells us that the nomination will wrap up sooner rather than later (...and that has been true in strictly proportional Democratic races with similar calendars). The question now is how long will this race last? The race needs to last long enough for the rules to kick in, which will, in turn, draw the race out even further. That is not how people have been thinking about this. Instead, the standard thought is that the new rules will prolong the process.

Now the process just has to get to a point where those rules would matter. We shall see.

2008 vs. 2012 Republican Delegate Allocation
StateTotal DelegatesDistrict DelegatesBase DelegatesBonus DelegatesAutomatic Delegates2012 Rules12008 Rules2
StateTotal DelegatesDistrict DelegatesBase DelegatesBonus DelegatesAutomatic Delegates2012 Rules12008 Rules2
StateTotal DelegatesDistrict DelegatesBase DelegatesBonus DelegatesAutomatic Delegates2012 Rules12008 Rules2
GA764210213Top 2/CD--Prop./at-largeWTA/CD
ID32610133Caucus (80% Prop.)Prop.
OH66481053Conditional WTA/at-large--WTA/CDWTA/CD
OK431510153Conditional WTAWTA/CD
TN582710183Conditional WTA*Conditional WTA
VT1731013Conditional WTA/at-large--WTA/CDWTA
VA49331033Conditional WTA/at-large--WTA/CDWTA
AL502110163Conditional WTAConditional WTA
MS401210153Prop.Conditional WTA
StateTotal DelegatesDistrict DelegatesBase DelegatesBonus DelegatesAutomatic Delegates2012 Rules12008 Rules2
TX15510810343Prop.Conditional WTA
CT281510--3Conditional WTA/at-large--WTA/CDWTA
NY95811013Conditional WTA/at-large--Top 2/CDWTA
StateTotal DelegatesDistrict DelegatesBase DelegatesBonus DelegatesAutomatic Delegates2012 Rules12008 Rules2
AR361210113Conditional Prop.Conditional Prop.
StateTotal DelegatesDistrict DelegatesBase DelegatesBonus DelegatesAutomatic Delegates2012 Rules12008 Rules2
No Date
StateTotal DelegatesDistrict DelegatesBase DelegatesBonus DelegatesAutomatic Delegates2012 Rules12008 Rules2
1 Source: Republican National Committee Counsel's Office
2 Source: The Green Papers
3 Key: WTA = winner-take-all; WTA/CD = winner-take-all by congressional district and statewide; conditional WTA = winner-take-all if candidate clears 50%, proportional otherwise; top 2 = top two candidates all allocated delegates if no candidate receives a majority; prop. = proportional; caucus = caucus; convention = convention; loophole = delegates directly elected (on primary ballot)

NOTE: FHQ should note that this RNC release is not a death knell for our examination of the state-by-state rules. The above is a 30,000 foot view of the process, but there is still a lot under the hood that is worth talking about in greater detail. That obviously could not be forced into on giant post. Continue to be on the lookout for that in the coming weeks under the 2012 Republican Delegate Allocation series label.

1 Below is the summary of delegate allocation from the Republican National Committee:
2012 RNC Delegate Summary

2 Tennessee has a higher 66% threshold. It will be very difficult to a candidate to get to that mark in a multicandidate field.

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Matt said...


Looking closely, the following states, although they have automatic delegates, those delegates are bound by the state's votes: DE, KS, MO, NV, NJ, VT. Agree?


Josh Putnam said...

It looks that way. Good catch, Matt.

Anonymous said...

The question that I would have is how can Florida be winner take all? I don't remember them having a exemption from the rules. They would seem to have to have proportionality at least with the at large delegates.