Monday, June 22, 2015

Ted Cruz, Texas Primary Polls and Delegate Allocation in the Lone Star State

There is a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll out this morning showing Ted Cruz leading in the 2016 presidential primary race in the Lone Star state. That Cruz leads and is ahead of another Texan -- former Governor Rick Perry who is in second -- is already being treated as the main headline number from the survey results.

FHQ doesn't know about that take away.

First of all, lest I be accused of not heeding the previous warnings, let me echo the call to "Ignore those polls!" Yes, with each passing day the race gets a little closer to votes actually being cast. Still, one should approach Iowa and New Hampshire poll numbers with caution at this point. And polls in states that will follow them -- and subsequently draw heavily on those earlier contests' results -- should be accompanied with an even larger grain of salt.

Secondly, warnings aside, the Tribune poll does give us an opportunity to map out delegate allocation in Texas, assuming the poll numbers are the election results. Again, it is super early in this process, but this particular poll makes for an interesting simulated delegate allocation run.

Texas Republicans  do have a new delegate allocation plan in place for the 2016 cycle. For the first time, Republicans in the Lone Star state will split the allocation of their national convention delegates across both a primary election and a caucus/convention system. Three-quarters of the 152 delegates will be allocated based on the results of the primary election on March 1, while the remaining quarter will be allocated at the June state convention.1 That convention fraction of the delegation -- 38 delegates -- is taken from the at-large pool of delegates. Texas has 44 at-large delegates for 2016. That leaves just six at-large delegates to be allocated based on the statewide results in the Texas presidential primary (and also 108 delegates to be allocated based on the primary results in each of Texas' 36 congressional districts -- three delegates in each district).

Let's put those 38 delegates on the back burner for a moment and focus on the 114 delegates to be allocated in the presidential primary part of the Texas Republican delegate selection rules. If we assume that the Tribune poll represents the results of the Texas presidential primary, then...

That 20% number that Cruz reaches is seemingly significant and probably more so than the fact that the Texas senator is ahead of the former governor in the Lone Star state. 20% is important because the Texas Republican delegate allocation plan requires candidates to receive at least 20% of the vote to be allocated any delegates.

So Cruz wins all 114 delegates?

Well, that seems to be the case since Cruz is the only candidate to clear the 20% barrier in this poll. And hey, that would be nice from a simplicity of delegate allocation perspective as well. However, if you have read this site for a while (and even if you have not), you will understand that simplicity and delegate allocation do not often go hand in hand. It is possible for a state to set 1) a minimum threshold of the vote that a candidate must receive to win any delegates and 2) a minimum threshold for a candidate to receive all of the delegates.

Texas is not one of those states. The sort of backdoor winner-take-all scenario that can take place even within the proportionality window (March 1-14) is far less possible in the Lone Star state.

Texas does have a 20% threshold that candidates must attain in the primary to receive any delegates and a 50% threshold for a candidate to receive all of the delegates. But the overall allocation is split across not only two tiers (a primary and the state convention), but it is also separated by statewide and congressional district results. That differentiation makes it more difficult for any one candidate to win all 114 Texas presidential primary delegates.

Let's parse that out. If we assume that the 20% Ted Cruz received statewide in this poll and the hypothetical presidential primary is evenly distributed across all 36 congressional districts, then Cruz would do quite well in the resulting delegate allocation.2 If Cruz got 20% and Perry 12% in each of the 36 congressional districts, then Cruz would win the three delegates from each of those 36 districts. The senator would be the only candidate above the 20% threshold.

But it is likely a stretch to assume that Cruz would win 20% in each district. It is likely that Cruz would do much better than 20% in some districts and much worse (even losing to another candidate) in others. This is a long way of saying that even if Cruz was the only candidate over 20% statewide, he would be unlikely to win all 108 of the congressional district delegates. In 2008, John McCain won a majority of the statewide vote in Texas, but still yielded some congressional district delegates to Mike Huckabee.

That still leaves the six at-large delegates -- the remainder of those at-large delegates not allocated at the state convention -- to be allocated. It is already unlikely that Cruz would take all of the congressional district delegates assuming the poll reflects the primary results. Even under the scenario where the 20% of the vote number is evenly distributed across all 36 congressional districts, it would be impossible for Cruz to win all 114 presidential primary delegates.

That is due to the way in which those remaining six at-large delegates have to be allocated under the Texas Republican delegate selection rules. While only one candidate can clear 20% of the vote on the congressional district level and win all three delegates, that is not true at the statewide level. If only one candidate clears the 20% barrier statewide, then that candidate splits the leftover at-large delegates with the candidate with the second most votes statewide. Cruz could win all of the delegates in the 36 congressional districts, then, but Perry would still take two delegates based on the at-large delegate allocation rules.

What about those other 38 at-large delegates to be allocated at the state convention? How will they be allocated? This process is less clear and is hidden behind something of a shroud of mystery. The only guidance for how those delegates will be allocated is this:
The State Republican Executive Committee shall prescribe the process for each state convention delegate to cast their vote for their presidential preference by electronic or paper ballot. 
That could be winner-take-all or it could be proportional. The former is more likely if a presumptive nominee is known by the time of the state convention. If the nomination is unsettled at that point, it provides the SREC the latitude to set a method of delegate allocation that is most likely to attract the candidates (or most likely to decide the nomination). For now, however, there is not a clear answer as to how a quarter of the Texas Republican delegation will be allocated and bound to candidates.

Is it interesting that Cruz is ahead of Perry in this poll? In a world starved for data, I suppose. But again, this is a poll of a post-carve-out state. To the extent the data matter, it is more useful as an illustration of how the Texas Republican delegates may be allocated next year.

UPDATE (2:30pm):
Please also note that the Republican Party of Texas amended their party rules on March 7, 2015 (after FHQ's January post). Included in those changes is a provision in Rule 38 to eliminate the convention allocation part of the Texas delegate selection rules if the Republican National Committee does not approve of a plan with allocation split across two differently timed (on the calendar) contests.

1 The full Texas delegation is comprised of 155 delegates, but three of those delegates -- the automatic delegates -- are not pledged to any candidate based on the results of either tier of the Texas Republican delegates allocation process for 2016. Those three delegates also do not count toward deriving the primary to caucus/convention ratio of delegates to be allocated.

2 The poll, however, does not break the results down by congressional districts. All we are left with, then, are assumptions of how that might look.

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Unknown said...

What if NO Republican candidate receives at least 20% in any congressional district in Texas. Would that mean that no delegates are awarded in that congressional district, that all are "uncommitted"?

Josh Putnam said...

No. If no candidate receives 20% of the vote -- either statewide or on the congressional district level -- the top two vote getters would be allocated the delegates. On the congressional district level that would mean the district winner receives two delegates while the runner-up receives one. Statewide, the allocation would likely maintain the same 4-2 split between the winner and runner-up described in the post. Since there is an even number of remainder at-large delegates, the only way there could be a 3-3 split is if there is an exact tie. There can be no fractional delegates.

Good question. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the prompt reply. Much appreciated.