Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fantasy Delegates

Look, FHQ has been stubbornly adamant that the bulk of the delegate counts for the 2012 Republican nomination race out there are artificially inflated.1 This is due in part to either a misguided application of the Democratic Party's proportional delegate allocation rules (see Iowa, Colorado, Maine and now Wyoming) or an equally skewed application of winner-take-all rules (see Minnesota) in all the caucus states but Nevada which have held caucuses thus far. But this is a misleading practice and is obviously based on a flawed logic. I realize that we all want to get a grasp of what the true delegate count is, but over-inflating the count serves no purpose.2 [I'll spare you having to read once again that delegates from these states attend the convention technically unbound anyway. Oops.]

Again, it is the caucus states that are driving the discrepancies in the various delegate counts.3 First of all, there are no rules at the state party level in any of these states (Iowa, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and now Wyoming) that indicates either a winner-take-all or proportional allocation of the delegates. In fact, there are no guidelines in any of these states to determine how many of any given candidate's supporters in attendance at the precinct caucuses get selected to move on to the next step of the process; either the county, district or state convention level. All we know is what a non-binding straw poll of precinct caucus attendees tells us. But as I have pointed out repeatedly, there are plenty of opportunities for people to vote in the straw poll and opt out of the lengthy caucus meeting process before the county, district or state convention delegates are chosen from among the caucusgoers at the precinct caucuses.

Up until now, FHQ has made the point that this would advantage the Ron Paul campaign -- the campaign with the seemingly most committed supporters in the race.4 But let me flesh that point out a bit and offer a hypothesis. First, a question: Who are Rick Santorum voters at these caucuses? There are a few different ways of thinking about this:
  1. They are sincere Santorum voters.
  2. They are sincere not Romney voters, but not necessarily committed to Santorum.
  3. They are Democrats attempting to prolong the Republican nomination process.
I'll dismiss the third option for now, as it is only going to affect things -- at the most -- at the margins. Plus the only clear evidence -- or actually push from the Santorum campaign -- of Democratic support has been in Michigan. But the other two types of Santorum voters are worth looking at in more detail. Are Santorum voters, then, true Santorum supporters or just committed to casting a protest vote against Romney?

The hypothesis: True Santorum supporters are more likely to stick it out through the whole delegate selection process at the precinct-level meeting, but "not Romney" Santorum voters are more likely to be satisfied with simply casting a not Romney vote in the non-binding straw poll.

The truth of the matter is that we don't know the answer to this question. And yes, I know, the Santorum folks are going to come after me on this one. But I don't think this is something that we can dismiss as a factor. The fact is that we simply don't know and that complicates even further our ability to project much of anything about the nature of the eventual allocation of delegates in these caucus states.

Until such time that someone/some outlet with the resources -- FHQ does not have them. -- can talk to all of the county, district or state convention delegates in these states and get an accurate feel for their candidate preferences, these delegates that the AP, New York Times and others are allocating to Paul, Romney or Santorum are fantasy delegates.5

Post script: Now, to head off the likely Santorum backlash from this, FHQ will wholeheartedly admit that none of this is static; that either these Santorum voters are sincere Santorum voters or not Romney voters or that the line between those two groups is well-defined and consistent across states. It isn't. Again, it is an unknown. For one thing, raising $9 million in a short month is indicative of some level of enthusiasm for the Santorum candidacy. So before my good Santorum friends return the volley with stories of enthusiasm and committed support (and with claims that those levels can grow over time), please note that FHQ is in no way dismissing the possibility that that level of support exists or can grow over time. I am only attempting to point out that there is a discrepancy here driven by the fact that we don't have a firm answer to the above question. Nothing more, nothing less.

1 Yeah, I know. That description is redundantly redundant. ...but allow me to emphasize my point.

2 It gets supporters' hopes up and forces them to counterintuitively throw, of all delegate counts, the New York Times' delegate count at FHQ as evidence of the "true" count.

3 FHQ has among the most conservative delegate counts out there, but the RNC's is by far the most conservative. They are not, as of yet, counting any automatic delegates who have endorsed a candidate already. For states that have held contests and in which the automatic delegates are not bound by the results of the primary or caucus, the RNC is considering those automatic delegates as unbound. That is consistent with the RNC delegate selection rules which call for those delegates to be unbound unless otherwise bound according to state party rules.

4 Even David Frum is starting to look into the Paul delegate strategy.

5 Newt Gingrich has as of yet been unable to cross the threshold (voter percentage necessary) to receive any delegates in most of these states. The former speaker's delegate total is fairly consistent across counts. That is because his delegates are all primary delegates from states with clearly defined rules on binding delegates.

Recent Posts:
Texas Primary Set for May 29

On the Shifting/Not Shifting of Michigan Delegate Allocation Rules

Race to 1144: Arizona Primary

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