Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Missouri Republicans Abandon Winner-Take-All Delegate Allocation Rules

Jo Mannies at St. Louis Public Radio is reporting that the Missouri Republican Party has opted to drop its traditional winner-take-all method of allocating delegates through its March 15 primary in 2016.1

This is an interesting development out of the Show-Me state.

One thing that FHQ wants to impress upon regular readers and passersby alike during this 2016 cycle is the distinction between strictly winner-take-all states and every other type of allocation plan that other states are utilizing. The truly winner-take-all states award the winner of the primary all of the delegates available from that state. That is true even if the candidate wins only a plurality by one vote over another candidate. This is how Florida will allocate delegates in 2016. It is how Missouri Republicans have tended to allocate delegates in the years in which they have held a presidential primary.

The reason for that emphasis -- on strictly winner-take-all and everything else -- is that in a closely contested race with a large field, that difference in allocation methods makes a large difference.2 Winner-take-all contests create delegate count separation that a proportional allocation does not provide. That competition also means that the hybrid allocation methods (including plans like those winner-take-most/winner-take-all by congressional district, like Missouri's) tend to end up closer to the proportional end of the spectrum than the winner-take-all side.

States switching to and from strictly winner-take-all rules, like Missouri Republicans have just done, are a pretty big deal. That is the reason that FHQ continues to point out here, on Twitter and to anyone who will listen that there are only a handful of these truly winner-take-all states (Arizona, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, Utah and Washington DC as well as probably North Carolina and Ohio) on the board. There are not post-March 14 states -- those after the proportionality window closes -- that are lining up to be winner-take-all contests.

But, looking at that list, there are several that are clustered on March 15 (Florida and probably North Carolina and Ohio) and March 22 (Arizona and Utah). Missouri on March 15 will not be a winner-take-all contest. In fact, it will be the only contest on that date that is not winner-take-all (or a primary like the one in Illinois in which delegates are directly elected).

That -- Missouri's switch to a winner-take-all by congressional district method -- carries both risk and reward. The reward is that the move is likely to attract candidates to the state in the near term and eventually next year when the primary is approaching. However, the gamble is that the shift will mean that Missouri might not carry as much weight in the delegate count as it could or once did.

The reward seems to have won out in Missouri and that is borne out elsewhere as well, as post-March 14 states are not moving to winner-take-all methods en masse. The opposite may be true, and that has potential implications for how quickly someone arrives at the requisite number of delegates necessary to claim the Republican presidential nomination.

1 The state legislature's inability to reschedule the 2012 Show-Me state presidential primary for a compliant (not February) date in 2011 forced the Missouri Republican Party to conduct later, compliant caucuses instead. Those caucuses had no clear delegate binding mechanism. Missouri's delegation went to the Tampa convention pledged/aligned with particular candidates, but not bound to them. In any event, the 2012 caucuses did not feature a winner-take-all allocation either.

2 And to be entirely truthful, it really does not take a large field to accomplish this difference, just competition. The 2012 cycle is a good example of that. And yes, the field will also winnow. We just don't know exactly how yet.

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