Friday, May 1, 2015

Shorter Primary Calendars and Unintended Consequences

FHQ heard from Mark Murray at NBC News the other night. He said they were doing a story on the 2016 presidential primary calendar and its potential implications and wanted my take. [Thanks!] I responded with a lot of what has filled the pages here for the last several months: the calendar formation stuff is winding down (calmer than in past cycles), but we're still waiting on the Republican delegate allocation rules at the state level to be layered on top of the calendar order. Also, I briefly discussed some of the quirks covered in our recent three part proportionality rules series -- backdoor winner-take-all contests in the proportionality window and the important distinction between truly winner-take-all contests and everything else after the proportional mandate ends after March 14 (not all states are rushing to change to truly winner-take-all rules).

One thing FHQ did not discuss was the shortened primary calendar the RNC has seemingly successfully manufactured for the 2016 cycle. I did not bring that up because the compressed calendar is likely to speed the process up rather than slow it down, not likely adding to the chaos that some are expecting from the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process. This is something FHQ touched on over at Crystal Ball last month, piggybacking on something that John Sides and I wrote in the days before Rick Santorum suspended his campaign in 2012.

The one line in the First Read piece that troubled me most was this one:
But the unintended consequence of a shortened nominating calendar is that about 70% of the delegates might not be decided until May.
Wait a minute. Kevin Collins had this great tweet a few months ago that was essentially, "so much of social science research boils down to one question: 'compared to what?'" That applies here. Fine, 70% of the delegates might not be decided until May. Compared to what?

Well, first the line -- and I know I'm nitpicking here (That's what I do.) -- is a bit ambiguous. Does it mean that only 70% of the delegates will have been allocated by May or that 70% of delegates will be allocated in May? I think it is the former, but one could make the argument that delegate allocation does not happen until state conventions have formally selected them. Even if that is the case, because of the new binding rules in place in the Republican race in 2016, that formal selection of delegates will have no bearing on how they are allocated/bound to particular candidates.

But let's examine the idea that 70% of the delegates will be allocated by May in 2016. How does that stack up against other cycles? Once the caucuses states more than likely slot into March positions on the calendar, the likely 75% delegates allocated mark will be passed on the last Tuesday in April. That is a full month before the May 22 date on which the 2012 Republican nomination race surpassed the 75% delegates allocated mark; the week before the Texas primary when Romney passed 1144.

Again, that 75% mark will hit a full month earlier in 2016 than it did in 2012. It is counterintuitive to suggest that this will slow things down in 2016, invite more chaos, and lead to a brokered deadlocked convention. All the compressed calendar is, is all the January and February states crowding back into March. Only a few states are actually attempting to move into March from later dates. Texas is the big one of those, but did not really move. The only reason Texas was forced away from the first Tuesday in March date in 2012 was because of unresolved redistricting issues. The primary date shift was forced on the state by the courts.

This may not be the typical Republican presidential nomination cycle, but if history is our guide then things will run their course and have fallen into place somewhere in the window of time between when 50% of the delegates have been allocated and when 75% of the delegates have been allocated -- the 50-75% Rule. That falls roughly between March 8 and April 26.

...before May.

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