Sunday, December 27, 2015

Another Thought About the 2016 Primaries: Numbers and Chaos

Having worried about the Winner-Take-All states like Florida and Ohio looming soon on the primary schedule for the Republicans, I got to wondering about how exactly the Proportional Win states like Texas would work out.

(I'm going with Texas because it's one of the largest delegate counts using Proportional methods, and it has a rather complex mechanism involving "thresholds")

Part of it is pure curiosity: the dangers of the WTA states are pretty obvious, but how much damage would a large-scale Proportional state do to the convention delegate chances of -  17 14 12 are we at 11 yet? - the remaining candidates trying to stop Trump from, you know, DOOMING ALL OF CIVILIZATION.

Part of it is trying to understand exactly how the Proportional states assign delegates: there's an At-Large section, a District-Win section, a No-Dogs-Allowed section, a Buy-Two-Get-One-Free section, a Clearance rack, and a partridge in a pear tree. In short, the rules look confusing.

So I went and emailed the Green Papers blog. I've linked to them from before on a few topics, and they are focused like a laser on how the primaries and our overall elections are working. They have set up pages for each state primary for parties, as well as the delegate rules for each, so they might be able to answer the questions I had.

The questions went like this:

Hi. I write a blog called You Might Notice a Trend, and I recently blogged about how the polling numbers tended to match up to primary results. I still have a question or two about it, and I hope you at Green Papers might have an answer.
For the Proportional delegate states like Texas that require Proportional, 20% threshold–If a candidate wins more than 50% of the statewide vote, he or she is awarded all of the state's at-large delegates. If a candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in a district, he or she is awarded all of the district's delegates, how would the delegation count look like if Trump gets 27 percent, Cruz gets 23, Bush gets 18, Rubio gets 17, Christie gets 10, maybe Rand gets 5, nobody else (if they all stay in) over 1 percent? It would then depend on who wins each district (which refers to Congressional district, right?) over 50 percent or at least plurality of that district?

The answer came back prompt and courteous:

Dear Mr. Wartenburg-
Yes, you are correct-- in a State doing things in the manner of Texas, a candidate who receives at least majority of the popular vote in a Congressional District would get all that District's delegates (3 total); where at least one candidate receives at least 20% of the popular vote, that candidate would get 2 District delegates and the second-place finisher in that District (even with less than 20% of the popular vote) would get the remaining District delegate; and, where no candidate gets at least 20% of the popular vote in that District,  the top 3 vote-getters in that District would split the 3 District delegates amongst themselves.
The 20% Statewide vote threshold has no impact whatsoever on the distribution of Congressional District delegates amongst GOP presidential contenders (thus- in your own hypothetical percentage breakdown of the Statewide percentages- Bush, Rubio, Christie [and even Rand Paul] might well gain the pledges of at least some Congressional District delegates)...
as for the Statewide percentages you have hypothesized themselves: only Trump and Cruz would get at-large delegates (Trump would- if we so simplify things here- get 26 of the 47 at-large delegates from Texas, with Cruz gaining the remaining 21 of these).

I went with those polling numbers for Texas because I vaguely recalled Trump and Cruz being in the high-20s but wasn't sure about the others. So I went back to Real Clear Politics for their polling tracker and found that the last tallied poll (in November) for the Texas primary showed:

Polling Data

RCP Average9/8 - 11/823.319. +4.3
UT/Texas Tribune10/30 - 11/82727134942411100Tie

(hey, copying the table seemed to work...)

If the RCP average ends up as the actual Texas Primary result on March 1, I think that means Trump gets ALL the At-Large state delegates having passed the threshold while Cruz at 19 percent misses out. If the last poll (UT/Texas Tribune) is correct, Trump and Cruz would split the At-Large delegates even-stevens at 23 each with a hanging Chad split down the middle like an apple pie. Mmm, pie. If NONE of them get over the statewide threshold, it looks like the At-Large get proportioned out.

That is a huge incentive for the Republican Party to keep as many candidate choices as possible to pull away from Trump's numbers and get him (and Cruz) under the 20 percentile.

No matter what, the bulk of the delegates depends on the individual districts, which the GOP uses Congressional districts to determine. In those cases, the party has to hope that no one gets over 50 percent of the vote in any district lest he/she claims all three delegates. That may not sound like much for one, but if one candidate does well in enough of those districts that's fewer delegates to share.

Just to note: Any Proportional state for delegates with thresholds will cut off a lot of the low-percent candidates, which may hasten their departure and make it easier for the high-percent - currently Trump, maybe Cruz and Rubio, maybe Carson and Christie somewhere in the middle of what's left of the pack, Jeb if he's stubborn enough to waste all his PAC money and luck into Third Place for the later rounds - candidates to cross those thresholds anyway. Those states cover Texas, New York, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and a few others with low enough delegate counts to be of minimal value (for now).

The states of highest value regarding Proportional are going to be the ones that won't set any thresholds: those will allot delegates by high enough percentages in the results. That means the mid-pack candidates REALLY need to focus on states like Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, Missouri.

The key thing overall I'm seeing is that the Republican establishment has a vested interest in keeping at least six candidates running in the field well into June. If a brokered convention is the only thing that can stop Trump, they need those delegates divided.

For the Winner-Take-All states, expect the party leaders to try and get the primary voters in them to throw enough support to one of the non-Trump candidates. For the Threshold states, expect that as well with a focus on splitting those At-Large numbers between Trump and the non-Trump. For the Free For Alls... well, expect a free-for-all because it'll be Every Candidate for Himself (forget it Carly).

With thanks to Mr. Berg-Andersson for answering my question and clarifying things. If you read this and see my reasonings are wrong, please correct. Good luck, and happy holidays.

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