Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: SOUTH CAROLINA

This is part three of a series of posts that will examine the Republican delegate allocation rules by state. The main goal of this exercise is to assess the rules for 2016 -- especially relative to 2012 -- in order to gauge the potential impact the changes to the rules along the winner-take-all/proportionality spectrum may have on the race for the Republican nomination. For this cycle the RNC recalibrated its rules, cutting the proportionality window in half (March 1-14), but tightening its definition of proportionality as well. While those alterations will trigger subtle changes in reaction at the state level, other rules changes -- particularly the new binding requirement placed on state parties -- will be more noticeable. 


Election type: primary
Date: February 20 
Number of delegates: 50 [26 at-large, 21 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: winner-take-most/winner-take-all by congressional district
Threshold to qualify for delegates: n/a
2012: winner-take-most/winner-take-all by congressional district

South Carolina is unique among its carve-out state brethren. Sure, the presidential primary in the Palmetto state is First in the South, but the South Carolina primary represents the lone exception to the proportional delegate allocation that the other three states -- Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada -- use. Actually, that distinction means South Carolina is the only non-proportional state (at least by the Republican National Committee's standards) before March 15 opens the post-proportionlity period of the 2016 presidential primary calendar.

The other three carve-out states utilize an allocation system that proportionally allocates their respective shares of delegates based on the statewide result of the primary/caucus. South Carolina, on the other hand, is a state where the distinction between at-large and congressional district delegates matters. The key here is that in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the statewide vote affects a pool of delegates that includes at-large, congressional district and sometimes automatic delegates. In South Carolina the pool is separated. The statewide vote dictates who wins the 29 at-large and automatic delegates, and the results in the state's seven congressional districts directs the allocation of each district's respective three delegates.

If a candidate wins the statewide vote, that candidate claims all 29 delegates. If a candidate receives a plurality in one of the seven congressional districts, that candidate is awarded all three delegates from that district.

A statewide win means that the resulting allocation of delegates is weighted in favor of the winner. Said candidate would not only claim over half of the available delegates (29 out of 50), but would also be well-positioned on the congressional district level as well. Winning statewide tends to but does not necessarily mean doing well in the congressional district vote. While Newt Gingrich won South Carolina in 2012, he lost one congressional district and its two delegates to Mitt Romney. Similarly, John McCain won South Carolina in 2008, but split the then six congressional district with Mike Huckabee, yielding the former Arkansas governor 6 delegates.

In both cases, the winner left the South Carolina primary with at least a three to one delegate advantage over the next closest competitor. And in Gingrich's case, it was more than 10:1.

The South Carolina Republican allocation method, then, is built to advantage the winner more than a strictly proportional method of allocation, but less than a strictly winner-take-all scheme. It should be noted however, if a candidate wins statewide and in each of the seven congressional districts, then South Carolina essentially becomes a winner-take-all state.

One additional area where there is some observed variation between states concerns how and how long delegates are bound to particular candidates at the national convention. The South Carolina Republican version of this has the delegates voting for the statewide winner or the winner of the congressional district on the first ballot only. If that candidate/those candidates is/are not nominated then those delegates are bound to the second or third place finisher statewide or at the congressional district level. If none of those three are nominated, then the delegates are unbound.

Presumably, the system works the same way for candidates who may have won South Carolina delegates, but who subsequently withdraw from the race. Those candidates are less likely -- obviously -- to have their name placed in nomination at the convention in Cleveland. But should a winning candidate withdraw, then their delegates are then bound to the second place finisher. If that candidate drops out, then the delegates go to the third top vote-getter. In both cases, that delegate transference is dependent upon the candidate ultimately being nominated. If not, then those delegates will be unbound free agents.

State allocation rules are archived here.

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