Monday, March 19, 2012

2012 Republican Delegate Allocation: Illinois

This is the twenty-fifth in a multipart series of posts that will examine the Republican delegate allocation by state.1 The main goal of this exercise is to assess the rules for 2012 -- especially relative to 2008 -- in order to gauge the impact the changes to the rules along the winner-take-all/proportionality spectrum may have on the race for the Republican nomination. As FHQ has argued in the past, this has often been cast as a black and white change. That the RNC has winner-take-all rules and the Democrats have proportional rules. Beyond that, the changes have been wrongly interpreted in a great many cases as having made a 180º change from straight winner-take-all to straight proportional rules in all pre-April 1 primary and caucus states. That is not the case. 

The new requirement has been adopted in a number of different ways across the states. Some have moved to a conditional system where winner-take-all allocation is dependent upon one candidate receiving 50% or more of the vote and others have responded by making just the usually small sliver of a state's delegate apportionment from the national party -- at-large delegates -- proportional as mandated by the party. Those are just two examples. There are other variations in between that also allow state parties to comply with the rules. FHQ has long argued that the effect of this change would be to lengthen the process. However, the extent of the changes from four years ago is not as great as has been interpreted and points to the spacing of the 2012 primary calendar -- and how that interacts with the ongoing campaign -- being a much larger factor in the accumulation of delegates (Again, especially relative to the 2008 calendar).

For links to the other states' plans see the Republican Delegate Selection Plans by State section in the left sidebar under the calendar.


Since Cokie Roberts was on Morning Edition this morning hyping the impact of the new "proportional" rules in tomorrow's Illinois Republican primary, FHQ is of the opinion that it is incumbent upon us to, well, at the very least, lead from behind in setting the record straight.

The rules in the Illinois primary tomorrow are exactly the same as they were in the Land of Lincoln four years ago. There is no change. The Illinois Republican Party had a fairly animated internal discussion between Romney and Perry factions [Yes, that Perry.] within the party back in late August and early September 2011. Those discussions also involved significant input from the Paul campaign and its supporters from outside. But at the end of it all, the party stuck with the delegate selection plan that it has employed throughout the post-reform era.

And for the record, that plan has never been proportional or winner-take-all. Illinois has a loophole primary.

A loophole primary is not unlike the array of state-level rules for Republican delegate allocation this cycle in that the ultimate allocation is not quite proportional and not quite winner-take-all. Winners of loophole primaries have historically not necessarily taken all of a state's delegates from a victory, but more than their share of the vote would otherwise indicate. Jimmy Carter, for instance, exploited loophole primaries in 1976 on his way to the Democratic nomination.2 The loophole primary takes its name from the fact that such rules allowed states to skirt the Democratic Party ban on winner-take-all allocation, and while not entirely winner-take-all, the results were not that far removed such an allocation in most cases.

Loophole primary bans came to the Democratic Party rules in the 1980s, but were never restricted on the Republican side. And though the Republican Party allowed loophole rules, a decreasing number of states over time actually utilized them. The two mainstays are Illinois and Pennsylvania, but West Virginia Republicans have also adopted, in part, some elements of a loophole allocation in its primary for 2012.

The loophole primary is one that is not quite proportional and not quite winner-take-all, but how are the rules constructed to allow for this winner-take-more/most allocation?

Illinois delegate breakdown:
  • 69 total (unbound) delegates
  • 12 at-large delegates
  • 54 congressional district delegates
  • 3 automatic delegates
Re-read that. All 69 delegates are unbound heading into the convention. While that is technically true, it is also a bit misleading. Tomorrow night those reporting the results will go out of their way to tell us who is winning the presidential preference vote. The only problem is that that vote is completely meaningless. That vote for Gingrich or Paul or Romney or Santorum will mean nothing to the ultimate allocation of delegates. That has something to do with the fact all of the delegates will ultimately be unbound, but that does not provide a full picture of the situation.

The only vote(s) that will matter in Illinois tomorrow -- at least in terms of delegate allocation -- are the votes for delegates. Primary voters will be voting for delegates directly on the ballot; for two to four congressional district slots (depending on which congressional district). Those voters will have the advantage of knowing which candidates the delegates support or if they are uncommitted. That information appears on the ballot. Now, one would think that perhaps this would in practice end up close to proportional. Often, however, it depends on who the delegates are. For instance, John McCain four years ago counted among his filed Illinois delegates former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. Known political names -- whether national or locally -- like that have a way of attracting voters' attention. That is a function of organization. McCain, like Jimmy Carter in Texas in 1976, was able to parlay a plurality win in Illinois (47%) on Super Tuesday (February 5, 2008) into a nearly 95% share of the delegates. He won in the primary vote 54 of the available 57 congressional district delegate slots. Mitt Romney won the remaining three delegates.

That sort of process will play out across the 18 Illinois congressional districts in tomorrow's primary.3 And though the Illinois Republican Party -- or more accurately the RNC -- will consider those delegates unbound, due to the fact that they were filed by or for the campaigns, those delegates are set in their preferences. However, that amounts to nothing more than a pledge. Loyalty oaths are not required and those delegates could change their minds if they so chose.

As for the 12 at-large delegates, those will be chosen at the state convention, but will also remain unbound. The same goes for the three automatic delegates.

The main thing is that you can treat the topline presidential preference vote in Illinois tomorrow either like a caucus state straw poll or a semi-official poll of the primary electorate. Other than that, it is meaningless. To adequately track the results look down the ballot to where the delegates are being selected. Who among those folks are making it through and more importantly whom do they support? That will tell you what you need to know for Wednesday morning.

And no, Illinois isn't proportional, Cokie. Not now, not in the past and likely not in the future. The Republican delegate selection rules have no impact on Republicans in the Land of Lincoln.

1 FHQ would say 50 part, but that doesn't count the territories and Washington, DC.

2 As Elaine Kamarck explains about the 1976 Texas primary, Carter was able to win 94% of the delegates in the Lone Star state with just over 47% of the vote. Again, it isn't quite winner-take-all but it certainly isn't proportional; something for which many within the Democratic Party at the time were striving.

3 It should be noted that Rick Santorum was short of the required number of signatures for 12 delegates across 10 congressional districts in Illinois. That is over 20% of the total number of congressional district delegates at stake for which the former Pennsylvania senator will not be eligible.

Recent Posts:
Race to 1144: Southern Tuesday/Puerto Rico

About that RNC Delegate Count, Part Two

A Few Thoughts on the Missouri Caucuses

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