Friday, February 26, 2016

SEC Primary Delegate Number Crunch

Let's do a quick simulated delegate allocation.

Bloomberg News released a Purple Strategies survey of voters in the seven southern states that will comprise the SEC primary on March 1. These numbers may prove to be off the mark when voters head to the polls on Super Tuesday. Nonetheless, if we assume that those numbers are the vote percentages in each of the seven states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia -- and their congressional districts, we can glean more than a little something from the hypothetical delegate allocation. The polling data are even more interesting in light of just how close second and third place are. Rubio and Cruz are tied at 20% each. That has some interesting implication for a simulated delegate distribution.

Before digging in, here are the assumptions of this exercise:
  1. The polling data are being treated as the vote shares of the candidates in the seven SEC primary states.
  2. That same polling data will also be treated as the vote shares of the candidates in all 75 congressional districts in the SEC primary states. [Yes, this is perhaps the assumption that asks for the largest leap of faith.]
  3. An exact tie between Cruz and Rubio makes this simulation a touch more difficult. That is particularly true when attempting to determine how to allocate the congressional district delegates. There are only three delegates in each of the 75 district. In the majority of these states the winner in a district gets two delegates and the runner-up receives the remaining one delegate. If Cruz and Rubio are tied, then the allocation of that runner-up delegate -- everywhere -- gets tough. For the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that Rubio received one more vote than Cruz on the congressional district level. Rubio was given the nod because he received more second choice support in the Bloomberg poll. 
  4. This obviously also has Cruz finishing third in his home state. That, too, may be something of a leap of faith. 

 Here's what happens:
SEC Primary Delegate Allocation Simulation
CandidateBloomberg PollAlabamaArkansasGeorgiaOklahomaTennesseeTexasVirginiaTotal

  • With 37% across all seven states and all 75 districts, Trump wins more than 55% of the delegates. This is another example of just how much the Republican delegate rules favor winners/frontrunners. 
  • Remember, we are assuming that Rubio received just one more vote than Cruz. They are both at roughly 20%, but Rubio has one more vote to push him into second place for the purposes of this exercise. That one vote make a huge difference in the delegate count. Everyone wants to win, but if you cannot win in these SEC primary states, then you definitely don't want to be in third (or lower). Why? In every state but Oklahoma and Virginia, third place means getting shut out of the congressional district haul in most cases in the other five states. This simulated allocation really drives that point home. Again, just one vote separated Rubio and Cruz, but Rubio ends up with more than twice as many delegates. This is a big deal for anyone who is consistently in third on the congressional district level. It means falling further behind in the delegate count. Third place is a bad place to be.
  • Statewide, only Trump, Rubio and Cruz clear the qualifying thresholds -- 20% in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas; 15% in Arkansas and Oklahoma. While that would mean a lot at-large delegates for Trump and that Rubio and Cruz would be allocated a similar share of at-large delegates, Cruz is getting the vast majority of his delegates from the at-large pool. Rubio's advantage is totally within the congressional districts in this exercise.
  • Overall, Trump basically carries a nearly 2:1 advantage in vote share over to an almost 2:1 advantage over Rubio in the delegate count. The New York businessman already has a more than 60 delegate advantage in the real delegate count. Not even counting the other four states allocating delegates on Super Tuesday, this hypothetical allocation of SEC primary delegates would tack another roughly 125 delegates onto that lead. Together, that would be more than the 165 delegates available on March 15 in winner-take-all Florida and Ohio. There are a number of comeback scenarios out there that are predicated on those 165 delegates.
  • Imagine if Rubio and/or Cruz slip below 20%. That would mean not qualifying delegates in the four most delegate-rich states. That would definitely be true statewide with respect to the at-large delegates, but would also apply to some of the congressional district delegates in some of those states. 
This is not a prediction. It is an exercise; a simulation. The utility here is in illustrating how the delegate allocation rules will operate in these specific circumstances (under the above assumptions). The two things demonstrated quite clearly are 1) the consistent winner gets a decided advantage in the delegate count under the rules in these states [This is not and should not be a news flash to anyone.] and 2) no candidate wants to (consistently) be in third place. The latter is a death sentence in the race for delegates.

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