As we head into a new year — and as Republican primary voters finally start heading to the polls — the questions of delegate math could start to matter if no single candidate is able to easily run away with the big prize in the early going.
And despite previous talk of proportional representation in the March contests — an effort to prolong the nomination race, and prevent one candidate from sewing it up based on pluralities — it might not mean much at all. An analysis by Josh Putnam of the actual, final delegate selection plans for each state shows that the states have adhered just closely enough to the rules, and taken advantage of some loopholes, so as to make the changes virtually meaningless.
In truth, many of them are still de facto winner-take-all — and others, meanwhile, are just de facto winner-take-almost-all.
Putting the question in plain English, many of the state parties have only built in a partial proportionality, for cases where the winner has only a plurality. But where there is a majority winner on a given statewide or Congressional district basis — 50%-plus-one of the vote — that candidate will get all of the delegates.
And of course, the chances of 50% winners do go up as the number of candidates goes down.
The key quote from Putnam’s analysis, with emphasis in the original:
Looking at the March states and matching 2012 to 2008, the most frequent response to the rules changes was for states to tack on a conditional element to their allocation rules. Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia — all Super Tuesday states — added a conditional element to their allocation rules. Winner-take-all allocation is dependent upon a candidate receiving over 50% of the vote, statewide and/or on the congressional district level. This is an important point. That 50% threshold is really going to play a role if the field has been winnowed down to just two candidates. Actually, FHQ has made this point before: The fewer candidates there are, the more likely it is that someone breaks 50% of the vote, and subsequently takes all the delegates in any of these conditional states.
And just think about Virginia, where only two candidates will be on the ballot — Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — thanks to some major blunders by Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, and a lack of any organization at all by the other candidates. Having only two candidates on the ballot guarantees that either Romney or Paul will walk away with a solid 46 delegates, and none left over for anyone else.
(Click here for a PDF collection of all the rules, compiled by the RNC, and the link care of the Weekly Standard.)
Image from Leigh / Shutterstock.