Diving Into the Weeds: GOP Delegate Math
Here’s a chart I made:
|2/20||South Carolina||50||Winner-Take-All by district|
|3/1||Alabama||50||Winner-Take-Most (50, 20)|
|3/1||Arkansas||40||Winner-Take-Most (50)(15, 50)|
|3/1||Georgia||76||Winner-Take-Most (50) (20)|
|3/1||Tennessee||58||Winner-Take-All (50) Proportional|
|3/1||Vermont||16||Winner-Take-All (50) Proportional|
|3/1||Virginia||49||Winner-Take-All (50) Proportional|
|3/8||Mississippi||39||Winner-Take-All (50) Proportional|
|3/8||Michigan||59||Winner-Take-Most (50) (15)|
|3/8||Idaho||32||Winner-Take-Most (50) (20)|
|3/13||Puerto Rico||23||Winner-Take-Most (50) (20)|
|3/22||Utah||40||Winner-Take-All (50) Proportional|
|4/19||New York||96||Winner-Take-All (50) Proportional|
|4/26||Connecticut||28||Winner-Take-Most (50, 20)|
|6/7||South Dakota||29||Proportional (20)|
|Several||North Dakota||28||Ongoing Caucus|
If you’re reaction is, “ok, got it, let’s get down to the numbers and analysis,” go ahead and skip a few sections lower in the post. If your response is “Uh, ok, what in the world am I looking at,” let me explain.
Basically, I have put together the above chart with the current order of the GOP primaries and Caucuses scheduled for next year along with the number of delegates available from each state.
The Republican Party will hold a nominating convention in Cleveland July 18-21, 2016. At that convention, a majority of the delegates from the states need to agree on one candidate as the Republican nominee for President and one candidate to be the Vice President. In the last several election cycles, this math has been pretty easy with one candidate getting overwhelming support. While this still remains the “most likely scenario given past events,” it’s appropriate to prepare a cautious plan in case such a future is less certain.
At the moment there are fourteen “major” Republican candidates vying for the nomination (there are over 200 persons who have “declared” nationwide, but, we’ll keep it to the people who you would ever see at a GOP debate. Also, yes, I have been leaving Jim Gilmore out of the Power Rankings and this list. I rank him in with Mark Everson.):
Donald Trump– You know who Donald Trump is. Billionaire frontrunner with the hair.
Ben Carson– World-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon with a growing penchant for controversial statements rivaling Trump. Currently polling at a sold second place.
Marco Rubio– First-term Senator from Florida with a strong Cuban heritage who is not running for re-election.
John Kasich– Popular governor of Ohio and former member of the House of Representatives (as well as a FoxNews host)
Jeb Bush– Former Governor of Florida with a popular/infamous surname.
Rand Paul– Junior Senator from Kentucky with a popular/infamous surname.
Ted Cruz– Junior Senator from Texas who has decided that every fight in the Senate is his conservative Alamo.
Carly Fiorina- The former HP executive.
Mike Huckabee– The former Governor of Arkansas, Presidential candidate, FoxNews personality, and Baptist pastor.
Rick Santorum– The former Pennsylvania Senator who lost in a landslide before becoming a culture warrior.
Lindsey Graham– The hawkish Senator from South Carolina
Bobby Jindal– The term-limited almost-former Governor of Louisiana
Chris Christie– The two-term Governor of New Jersey
George Pataki– The former Governor of New York in the early 2000’s.
Let’s have a brief discussion about he current reality of the GOP field. This part is not meant to offend you or your preferred candidate, but only to shed light on the coming commentary regarding the delegate math,
I do not forsee the following candidates either making it to Iowa (based on the amount of money they have currently raised cross-referenced with their national polling): Chris Christie, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal. Could each of these candidates just decide to be stubborn and stay in the race while not spending any money? Sure. Are they likely to do so when the establishment wing of the Party decides that they need every possible vote in Iowa and New Hampshire and comes calling to each of the campaigns offering to pay off campaign debts? Yeah, they’ll get out of the race. I left Mike Huckabee off of the list because I think he is still nostalgic about his big showing in Iowa in 2008. I cannot see him remaining in the race beyond that point. I also left Carly Fiorina in the race. While her poll numbers have tanked in accordance with her “flavor of the month flare-out,” she has a lot of money in reserve that she might decide to stick around to see what happens.
Notably, I have also left Dr. Ben Carson in the running for Iowa. While this may seem like a no-brainer (pun intended) because of Carson’s current standing in the polls, his support seems drawn from the base that Senator Ted Cruz will try to make a play for in the coming weeks. It’s unclear if Carson is a “flavor of the month” because of his outside-the-mainstream comments that play well to the far-right wing of the Party or if he is banking on that support coalescing like it did for Trump. Regardless of the truth, it’s impossible to discount Carson at this stage of the cycle. This diagnosis could change (and I’d predict that it would) by the end of November.
So, that leaves Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich in the race for the long-haul. (Note: I am leaving Kasich in because of his almost sure-victory in winner-take-all Ohio on March 1st). Too many political commentators have been burned betting against Trump in this cycle and we need to accept that he has developed a decent handle on 25% of the GOP base. Most strikingly, nearly every individual state poll released seems to be showing Trump in the lead with a plurality.
A candidate will need 1237 delegate votes at the GOP convention to win the nomination.
As you can note in the chart, above, the three major ways that the state Party apportions delegates to the convention are: Proportionally, Winner-Take-All, and Winner-Take-Most. GOP delegate math is far simpler than the “super delegate” system of the Democrats. Basically, every state gets 10 “at-large” delegates, 3 delegates as “RNC officials” and 3 delegates per legislative district. If there is a history of GOP loyalty in a district, the Party may have granted a “bonus” delegate to that district.
Proportional allotment of delegates typically breaks down in one of two ways: proportional by total votes in the state or proportional by district. The first way is straightforward: the percentage of the votes per candidate is the percentage of the delegates awarded to that candidate rounded to the nearest whole number. North Carolina is an example of this form of selection. The statewide totals will divide up the 69 (of 72) statewide delegates based on percentages of the vote.
The second way is awarding delegates per district majority to arrive at a state total that could split the delegation. This just drills down farther into the proportional allotments to make them at the district level instead of the state level for the district-allotted delegates. For each of the three district-delegates allotted, they would correspond to the proportional vote in the district. The State delegates would then be selected proportionally from the state totals.
Winner-Take-All allotments (by state) is just the way it sounds. Even a plurality of the vote is sufficient to take all the delegates apportioned to the State. Florida is an important example of this. Florida will give its 99 delegates in support of whoever gets the most votes in its primary, statewide.
Winner-Take-All allotments (by state and by district) is a bit different than the fully winner-take-all model. Let’s use Maryland’s 38 delegates (MD is a winner-take-all by state and by district model) as an example. Maryland has 8 congressional districts (24 delegates), 10 at large delegates, 3 RNC official delegates, and one bonus delegate (we elected Governor Larry Hogan in 2014 so it’s a reward from the Party). Let’s say Donald Trump wins 3 of the 8 congressional districts in Maryland with a plurality, Bush wins 2, Rubio wins 2, and Kasich wins 1. The outcome would be Trump 9, Bush: 6, Rubio: 6, and Kasich 3 with the remaining 3 RNC delegates in most states going to the highest number of votes state-wide, in this case, let’s say Trump gets a plurality of the six candidates with 25%. So, the final count would look something like: Trump: 23 (9+11+3), Bush: 6, Rubio: 6, Kasich: 3 = 38 Delegates.
This gets a bit more complex in “Winner-Take-Most” primaries. For example, in Michigan, in order to qualify to get delegates, there is a baseline threshold of 15% of the vote. So, what this would mean is, using today’s poll numbers nationally as an example, only Trump and Carson could receive delegates in Michigan. Those delegates would then be apportioned based on Trump or Carson’s share of the vote in each district. Now, a caveat applies to this model. If Donald Trump, for example, received over 50% of the vote statewide, he would “Trump” (see what I did there?) the votes for any other candidate and receive all of the delegates from Michigan.
There are a few other models in use as well. For example, in New York, delegates will be apportioned “winner take all” unless a candidate does not achieve 50% of the statewide vote. If that happens, then New York will attribute delegates proportionally. Likewise, there are states with ongoing caucuses that move from local, to district, to state caucuses over the course of a few months to finally resolve delegate allotments. It should also be noted that not all delegates, even in some Winner-Take-All states are apportioned entirely. There are situations where the 3 RNC delegates are unbound and can vote however they choose at the RNC convention (this is rare, but it exists).
As one last note, it’s important to realize that delegates will likely be required to remain bound to their candidate for the first vote at the RNC convention and for however many other votes that their individual State party requires. If, for example, there is a convention stalemate where there are three Presidential hopefuls each getting 33% of the vote for three ballots in a row, some state delegates may become “unbound” and may switch their allegiances. It appears that every state requires the majority of their delegation to remain bound for at least one ballot and then it varies for each state for how many ballots thereafter. For example, in Maryland, delegates are bound for two ballots. Maryland delegates cease being bound if their bound candidate receives less than 35% of the vote at the convention.
(Candidates can also release their delegates with a request to support another candidate. This usually happens when a candidate has gotten a few delegates in the primary but stands no chance of actually winning the nomination. See: Newt Gingrich, 2012.)
If you skipped forward earlier, you can come back into the discussion here
So, what does the current delegate math look like right now? It depends a lot on Ben Carson. Consistent national polling over the past four months has seen a rising market share for outsider candidates Trump, Carson, and Fiorina. Though Fiorina has seen a marked decline in the past two weeks, the relative market share of the “outsiders” has steadily increased. The threshold point, clear is 50%. Given the winner-take-most rules and the winner-take-all caveats, we have to understand that crossing the majoritarian boundary is the “tipping point” for a total rout.
The “establishment” fallback plan, as was noted this week by Dave Weigel writing for the Washington Post’s “The Fix” (which, by the way, is where you should be getting a lot of your political insight) is making Jeb Bush’s people start to sound like Ron Paul’s people, and that’s not a good thing.
In essence, the Bush people are looking at the map and seeing their chances hinging on making sure that the “anti-establishment” vote does not crest over 50%. More than that, they, along with Senator Ted Cruz, are looking to make sure that they get wins in at least eight states or territories. This is about as arcane as the nominating discussion gets. Rule 40(b) of the RNC’s standing rules states that a candidate, in order to be “nominated” (that is, have his or her name be presented to the delegates for voting), must have carried the majority of the delegates in eight states or territories. This was raised from 5 to 8 after Ron Paul’s insurgent campaign attempted to co-opt state caucus nominating conventions using procedural rules and packing state delegations. Now, in slight comeuppance, it could prevent an establishment candidate from appearing on the nominating ballot.
Let’s be clear: the longer Trump remains at the top of the polls, the more his base solidifies somewhere around 25%. As we’ve already been able to see, attacks on Trump are treated with ever more forceful defenses by the billionaire’s supporters. It comes down to what degree Ben Carson’s supporters move to Trump or to Cruz. Certainly Carson has raised enough money to be a sizable force in the primaries, but it’s not outlandish to think that his relative support is soft (in that it could flow to other candidates, not that people don’t like him). As Trump’s “electability” increases (that is, people can see Donald Trump in the Oval Office), they could migrate from Carson to an “inevitable” Trump. The more likely scenario, at least in my mind, is that Ted Cruz has the political acumen to draw from Carson’s supporters as a “Carson-like politician being screwed over by the establishment in DC.” Certainly, Cruz is positioning himself as an outsider in GOP and in DC.
Let’s also remember that Iowa is a little over three months away. This is either very close or slightly far given your outlook. If you’re on the establishment side of things, this is too close for comfort. However, if you’re Donald Trump, it means you have almost exactly double the time you’ve been leading the race left before you can start claiming actual delegates.
If the numbers remain consistent, Donald Trump likely secures the Republican nomination sometime around the beginning of May. If Cruz is able to siphon either Carson’s supporters, Trump’s supporters, or both, he can make an effective play at the SEC primaries and could force a brokered convention (that is, no candidate receiving the majority of the delegates by the time the RNC meets for its convention).
With Jeb Bush languishing below 10% in current polls, talk of his inevitability grows more futile with each establishment commentator writing about it. The two reasons that we don’t count Bush out of the race now are that 1) his last name carries weight and 2) he has over $100M in his SuperPAC that he’s going to have to start spending soon. However, it may be that the damage to his campaign has already been done. With donors deserting him and his third quarter fundraising numbers being generally poor (for his campaign’s talk of being inevitable).
If we are in the business of predicting the future in this race (which, if someone had predicted the sustained rise of Trump and Carson back in May, that person might actually be a fortune teller), we can think of a few solid predictions:
- The Trump numbers level off and hover around 25% nationwide. In a race with 14 candidates, 25% is enough to win. Once the third-and-fourth tier candidates drop, expect to see some reshuffling. For every percentage point Trump starts to increase nationally (and if he holds it), he will start to shave days and then weeks off of his nomination. Trump is hoping for a snowball effect, but he still has three months to stay on top.
- The Carson rise will fade. Whether Carson’s numbers will level off as the “outsider-alternative-to-Trump” or crater like Fiorina’s is unknown. Certainly conventional political gravity says that his consistently strange comments will not help him keep a hold on second place.
- Expect the Cruz bounce. With the Senate in session and likely fights over spending brewing, expect to see Cruz paint himself as the innocent outsider trying to do the “people’s will” in DC. As George W. Bush seemed to indicate, insiders are afraid of Cruz and his potential impact on the 2016 race. Cruz’s plan is to make sure he gets eight states and force a brokered convention. His first big target is South Carolina and then the early, delegate-rich Alabama and Georgia (where Gingirch won in 2012).
- Rubio will rise. Some degree of consolidation among the candidates polling under 10% will take place. Rubio will be seen as the palatable alternative to Bush with the appropriate moderate-conservative bona fides to carry the Party’s standard. Also, he has been doing well on foreign policy issues that will make him more palatable to the harder conservative side of the Party. If Rubio can make a concerted effort to secure second-place finishes in early proportional primaries and target winner-take-all districts, his big stand will have to come in Florida.
- Jeb will linger. Expect Bush to make a huge play for support in the last quarter of this year. He needs to show that he’s “Presidential” and worthy of top tier status or he risks being overshadowed by a rising Rubio. Jeb’s math is rapidly falling apart on delegates.
- I expect Kasich to stay in the race if he’s able to get some screen time at the next debate on October 28th. He’s likely to out-poll and beat Trump in Ohio if the race makes it to that point.
These predictions, calculations, and numbers will be updated as things progress and change. (And might very well look foolish in the coming months when current events completely bust any predictions being made over a year before next November).