Friday, April 17, 2015

Republican Proportionality Rules Changes for 2016, Part Two

Earlier this week FHQ began an examination of Republican proportionality rules changes for the 2016 presidential election cycle. On the most basic level, the Republican National Committee 1) cut the proportionality window in half for 2016 as compared to 2012 and 2) narrowed its 2012 definition of what constitutes a proportional delegate selection event for the 2016 cycle. Theoretically, the former would cut down on the number of proportional states while the latter would increase that number.1

Having established that as a baseline understanding of the differences between the 2012 and 2016 rules, the focus can now turn to the implications of those changes. In other words, now that the RNC has changed the mandate on proportionality, how will the states and state parties adapt their 2012 delegate selection plans in order to remain compliant? Four years ago, after the RNC first introduced the proportionality requirement, most states took the path of least resistance. Assuming state Republican parties had a baseline/traditional method of allocating delegates to the national convention (and of binding those delegates based on the presidential preference expressed in the primaries and caucuses) in 2008, then in response, the majority of states made the smallest changes possible to remain rules-compliant in 2012.

Proportionality Tweaking
If states in 2015 follow the same pattern, the changes will be quite minimal. As FHQ said in part one, the Republican state parties would only have to very slightly turn the knob toward the more proportional requirement the national party put in place for this cycle. To get a better sense of this let's apply the 2016 proportionality rules to the states that held contests in the 2012 proportionality window.2 This will provide a glimpse, albeit an imperfect one, into just how large the effect of the 2016 rules changes would be. If those 16 2012 states in the proportionality window created delegate selection rules in line with the 2016 rules, only 28 delegates would have been reallocated based on the results of the 2012 contests.3 That is 28 delegates out of a possible 676 total delegates in those states; just 4% of those delegates and 2% of the 1144 needed to clinch the 2012 nomination would have been reallocated.

Just over half of those 28 were from two states: Alabama and Louisiana. The Alabama primary was so closely contested between Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum both statewide and in all seven congressional districts that, proportionally, each of the three candidates would have received a delegate from each of the seven congressional districts. The 2012 rules stipulated that the winning candidate in each congressional district should receive two delegates and the runner-up the remaining one delegate. That would have reallocated seven delegates.

In Louisiana, the state Republican Party devised rules designed to leave a number of the at-large delegates to be allocated in the primary uncommitted. Ten of the 25 at-large delegates ended up uncommitted/unbound which presumably would not be allowed under the 2016 RNC rules. Those delegates would have been proportionally allocated to Romney and Santorum.

That leaves just 11 delegates that would have changed hands in the remaining 14 2012 states if the 2016 proportionality rules had been in place. Mostly, that is due to the the fact that nine of those 14 states would have been compliant in 2012 under the 2016 rules. The dynamics will be different in 2016 than they were in 2012, but the above exercise does paint a picture of minimal effects from the proportionality changes for this current cycle.

One additional layer, where there may be some more tinkering in 2016 than there was in 2012, comes from the vote thresholds that allow candidates to either receive some delegates and/or all of the delegates in a state or district. Again, state parties can set a minimum threshold of 20% of the vote for candidates to receive any delegates from the statewide, at-large pool or in a congressional district. Additionally, the state parties can set a minimum threshold of 50% that, if a candidate won a majority of the vote statewide or in a district, that candidate would receive all of the delegates in the corresponding political unit.

States that moved more toward the proportional end of the spectrum in 2012 already mostly put thresholds of varying degrees in place (see Alabama and Mississippi). States like Ohio, which only proportionalized its at-large delegates in 2012 -- the bare-minimum action to achieve proportionality -- but left their congressional districts winner-take-all would have to make those districts proportional for 2016. Still, the rules provide a range for state parties. They can be truly proportional, where a candidate who receives 40% of the vote is allocated approximately 40% of the total pool of delegates (or delegates statewide or in a congressional district). Alternatively, states can institute a threshold up to 20% for candidates to be eligible to be allocated delegates. In other words, states are not required to have a threshold for delegate eligibility, but if they have one it cannot be set higher than 20%.

The same sort of dynamic works for the other threshold -- the winner-take-all threshold -- but in reverse. State parties do not have to put in place a percentage of the vote a candidate must win statewide or in a congressional district to receive all of the delegates in that unit, but if they do choose to put one in place, it can be no lower than 50%, a simple majority. Many states had 50% winner-take-all conditionality in 2012 (which was allowed even in the proportionality window). Ohio Republicans had such a threshold for their at-large delegates. Other states left out such a rider in their rules (see Massachusetts). Tennessee was the only state that had a threshold and set it anywhere other than 50%. For Tennessee to have been winner-take-all in 2012, a candidate would have to have won greater than 66% of the vote statewide and in each of the Volunteer state's nine congressional districts. That is a high bar to hit for winner-take-all to have been triggered.

Even though this could add to that variation, those thresholds -- both the 20% one and the 50% one -- were already built into the above simulation. Again, the changes in 2016 do not present fundamental, sweeping changes to how the delegates may be allocated in 2016.

2016 Conditions
Now, if you have read this far and are still awake, you may have thought, "Well sure, FHQ. It is easy to apply the 2016 rules to the 2012 environment, but the 2016 Republican nomination race will play out in the 2016 environment." FHQ agrees. That's why we said the earlier simulation was imperfect. It does shed some light on the limitations of rules changes, but only so much light.

So what's different about 2016?

Some might argue and indeed have argued that the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process is the most wide open a Republican nomination race has been in the post-reform era. Our measure of that is at a minimum the number of candidates who are thought to be considering a run. But better yet, the wide open race is a function of the number of potentially viable candidates who are included in that list.

Of course, there have been wide open Democratic races in the past waged under a stricter proportionality requirement that have resolved themselves in short order and certainly far short of a deadlocked convention. In the current part of the post-reform era, the earliest contests and now, even more so, the invisible primary winnow the field of candidates. The fewer candidates there are seriously competing for the nomination, the less influential proportionality rules (or proportionality rules changes) will matter, one could hypothesize.

Now, some of that winnowing effect could be countered by the raising and spending of larger amounts of money through and by super PACs. As the line from 2012 went -- and make no mistake its echoes are being heard in 2015 -- super PACs allow candidates to hang around longer. That could be. 2012 was not a good test of that hypothesis though. 2016 may be. But we'll have to wait for the data to come in.

But let's assume that a comparatively greater number of candidates with or without the help of super PACs successfully navigate and survive through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and make it to the proportionality window that opens on March 1. [REMINDER: The carve-out states are not affected by the proportionality rule. New Hampshire is proportional based on state law and Nevada was proportional in 2012. South Carolina is winner-take all by congressional district. The jury is still out on Iowa's Republican caucuses. The age of non-binding caucuses and fantasy delegates may be over.]

Furthermore, it is worth recalling, given the Iowa part of that reminder above, that there are no more non-binding caucuses.4 Adding those states to the proportional rolls, may also have some impact on all of this. FHQ would argue that that, too, will be minimal in nature. The real change there is that delegate processes essentially go from being unregulated in 2012 to regulated in 2016. That change takes the mystery out of the delegate count. It tamps down on chaos rather than adding on to it.

Assuming then that there are a greater number of viable candidates heading into a proportional phase of the process jam-packed with contests, what sorts of fun or interesting outcomes might the proportionality rules changes for 2016 produce?

One idea that has caught some traction is that if there are a lot of candidates alive as March 1 hits and state parties have instituted the highest possible threshold for receiving any delegates, then states could end up triggering a sort of backdoor winner-take-all allocation within the proportionality window.

Let me parse that out some. Say, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker all make it through to the proportionality phase. [See, I'll bet some of you are saying to yourselves that there's no way that happens. Good. I don't think so either. When was the last time six viable candidates made it through the first four contests (some of them without winning anything)? Bear with me here.] Let's also say that every state in the proportionality window has a 20% delegate threshold. If all six candidates are on equal footing in the race to that point, then mathematically, no one can get to 20% of the vote. But all of the candidates will probably not be at parity with each other at that point in the race. Perhaps, though, one candidate is at or above 20% in a contest or more. If only one candidate clears that 20% threshold statewide or in a congressional district, that candidate would receive all of the delegates.

To be quite plain, this scenario does not require six candidates to work. It could work with fewer candidates, but as candidates are dropped one-by-one, the chances of triggering this backdoor winner-take-all allocation decreases.

Look, this sort of thing is fun to consider, but let's be real about these proportionality rules changes the RNC has added for 2016. Compared to 2012, the effects are likely to be quite minimal even with a different environment. Before we fully come to that conclusion, there is still more more phase to consider: the part of the primary calendar after the proportionality window closes. That is earlier in 2016 than it was in 2012 and has already drawn a fair amount of commentary and speculation. Some if not a majority of that commentary is misguided. FHQ will focus on the winner-take-all myth in part three.

1 That hypothesis assumes that the presidential primary calendar remains static cycle over cycle. As this blog well establishes, that is a faulty assumption. In reality, it depends on how many states choose to wedge their contests into them two week proportionality window in 2016. At this point, though the states have changed, the number of states in that proportionality window looks as though it will be approximately the same as the number of primaries and caucuses in the month-long window in 2012.

2 This excludes the carve-out states as they are exempted from the proportionality requirement under the RNC delegate selection rules. FHQ will also exclude rogue states like Arizona, Florida and Michigan that ignored the proportionality rules in 2012 and skirted penalties in the process. The reasoning for their exclusion is twofold. First, all three fall outside of the proportionality window for 2016. Simulating their proportionalization is meaningless to 2016. Second, congressional district results from the 2012 primaries in those states were not readily available. Those data are necessary to reallocate the delegates under the 2016 rules. Finally, FHQ does not include in this exercise the caucuses states where there were no formal rules for delegate allocation in 2012. Drawing a comparison, then, would be quite difficult. Additionally, congressional district results were not available in most caucuses states even if there had been rules on allocation. Overall, that removes all of the 2012 caucuses states except Alaska, Idaho, Hawaii and Kansas.

3 Those 16 states are Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Kansas, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, Louisiana (25 at-large delegates), Puerto Rico and Illinois.

4 FHQ has added those non-binding caucuses to the projected number of states in the proportionality window already. That is what helps push the number of 2016 contests in the proportionality window up to around the number in the month-long window in 2012.

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