Thursday, May 25, 2023

An Exercise in Early State Delegate Allocation

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
FHQ is aware that most folks are focused on other things this morning, and we will comment on yesterday's events below. But let's start elsewhere with a fun diversion. Because who does not want to talk about delegate allocation seven months before any votes are cast, right?

Well, probably most normal people. However, as an exercise in just how delegate allocation may go in a pair of early Republican primary (or caucus) states, let's look at a couple of recent polls out of Iowa and South Carolina. 

Just this morning, Emerson released a poll on the state of the race in (presumably) first-in-the-nation Iowa, and the survey depicts a race that is not especially close. Former President Trump enjoys a 42 point advantage over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the pair are the only two candidates to garner more than five percent support. Still, even though the full Iowa delegation will vote for one candidate at the national convention (if just one name is placed in nomination as usual), the Republican Party of Iowa uses a proportional allocation system with no official qualifying threshold. That just means that, depending on how the vote is distributed, a candidate can get below two percent support and still round up to a single delegate in the allocation.

So how would things look if, on caucus night, the Emerson survey was reflective of the results in Iowa?

Not surprisingly, Trump and DeSantis dominate the allocation. One should expect that in a straight up proportional allocation system with no qualifying threshold. However, the fun, if one can call it that, is in the rounding for those candidates at the bottom of the order. Like Bill Weld in 2020, Tim Scott, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Sununu all eke out a hypothetical delegate from the Hawkeye state. Note that Sununu in particular reels in just 1.6 percent of the vote and manages to round up to a delegate. 

Yet, if the 1.6% in the poll who named someone else other than the candidates listed -- those above plus Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum -- opted for, say, DeSantis instead, then the Florida governor would round up to a ninth delegate, depriving Sununu of his lone delegate. The math for both would leave DeSantis a larger remainder and he would round up.

Now, is that solitary delegate going to matter in the grand scheme of things? In this particular scenario, no. But if the votes are distributed differently -- in a less lopsided manner -- then it could matter. But that would likely mean that Trump's support has ebbed and/or some other candidate's fortunes have turned around. And that would probably be the bigger story to tell. 

[NOTE: This all assumes that 1) Iowa Republicans carry over allocation rules that the party most recently renewed in the 2022 adoption of amended party rules and 2) that the RNC apportions 40 delegates to Iowa for 2024 as it did in 2020.]

South Carolina 
There was also a recent survey from National Public Affairs of the Republican nomination race in the Palmetto state. Trump led by 15 over DeSantis -- 38-23 -- but the main takeaway from FHQ's perspective was that Trump's support shrank since the firm's last poll of South Carolina in April. Normally a five point drop while still retaining a 15 point advantage would not elicit much of a response. Trump would hypothetically win the primary and leave the most delegate-rich state in the early window of the calendar with a significant net delegate advantage from a winner-take-all by congressional district state. 

But in dropping below 40 percent support, Trump would be flirting with potentially losing out on taking all of the delegates out of South Carolina. Again, it would depend on how the votes are distributed across the state and districts, but it is rough rule of thumb that a candidate who clears 40 percent in the South Carolina Republican primary has a better than average shot at turning it into a winner-take-all (overall) state under the party's allocation rules. 

Perhaps that is splitting hairs, but as with the Iowa example above, it does help to identify where the cutlines are in the delegate allocation process. Anyway, as FHQ said, this is supposed to be a fun diversion.

Look, FHQ made a case for DeSantis being up against it in the race for the Republican nomination based on where Trump is positioned in the race at the moment. But folks, things can change. And as Jonathan Bernstein astutely pointed out at Bloomberg yesterday, they often have in presidential nomination battles. [It is a good piece. Go read it!] As he notes, DeSantis may have suffered some setbacks but he is in a position not unlike that of John McCain or Barack Obama in 2008. Both came back to win their respective nominations after invisible primary swoons the year prior. However, DeSantis could also ultimately find himself in the company of Kamala Harris or Scott Walker, who both, despite conventional qualifications and some promise, fell flat and never really amounted to much in their respective races. 

Yes, as I mentioned on Monday in response to something similar from Harry Enten, much of this depends on Trump. The former president is in a commanding position right now. That is commanding and not precarious. Commanding, not tenuous. But there is uncertainty because of the baggage Trump carries, including the various legal entanglements in which the former president finds himself mired. The uncertainty is great enough that anything from a Trump collapse to a DeSantis comeback to a surge from another candidate (or some combination of all three) are all seemingly possible. But the remainder of the invisible primary will say much about the viability of those last two options. 

Finally, Ron DeSantis officially filed his paperwork to run for president with the Federal Elections Commission on Wednesday, May 24. And things went downhill from there. There has already been a lot of ink spilled on the botched rollout of DeSantis for President on Twitter and the impact it will have. 


Here is where it matters. DeSantis is coming off a stretch where little seemed to be going right. Trump's position improved and some were asking whether DeSantis had waited too long to jump into the race or whether he should even officially run at all. All last night was was a missed opportunity. It was a missed opportunity to break from the downward spiral narrative. DeSantis will have future chances to right the ship but there may be fewer of them and/or less margin for error when they do come along. That is where yesterday matters. One rarely gets a second chance to make a first impression. However, in DeSantis's favor is the fact that most folks still are not engaged on 2024 yet. But an impression may be in the process of setting in. 

On this date... 1976, on what was the busiest day of the calendar that cycle, five candidates claimed victory in primaries across six states and two competitive nominations races. On the Republican side, President Gerald Ford won contests in Kentucky, Oregon and Tennessee while former California Governor Ronald Reagan notched wins in Arkansas, Idaho and Nevada. In the Democratic race, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter swept the three southern primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee while Frank Church (Idaho and Oregon) and Jerry Brown (Nevada) split the three contests out west. 2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush took all of the delegates from a win at the Kansas Republican state convention. 2004, President George W. Bush received just under 90 percent of the vote in winning the Idaho presidential primary.


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