Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: TENNESSEE

Updated 3.1.16

This is part eleven of a series of posts that will examine the Republican delegate allocation rules by state. The main goal of this exercise is to assess the rules for 2016 -- especially relative to 2012 -- in order to gauge the potential impact the changes to the rules along the winner-take-all/proportionality spectrum may have on the race for the Republican nomination. For this cycle the RNC recalibrated its rules, cutting the proportionality window in half (March 1-14), but tightening its definition of proportionality as well. While those alterations will trigger subtle changes in reaction at the state level, other rules changes -- particularly the new binding requirement placed on state parties -- will be more noticeable. 


Election type: primary
Date: March 1 
Number of delegates: 58 [28 at-large, 27 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional (with supermajority (67%) winner-take-all trigger statewide and in congressional districts)
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 20% (both statewide and within the congressional districts)
2012: proportional primary

The Tennessee Republican Party method of delegate allocation echoes that of Oklahoma in many respects. In several others, it does not.

Changes since 2012
The biggest similarity between Tennessee and Oklahoma in terms of their respective delegate selection plans is that Volunteer state Republicans were similarly overly proportional given the 2012 RNC rules. Again, four years ago, states could achieve proportionality by simply proportionally allocating their at-large delegates. State parties were free to adopt plans for 2012 that would accomplish that while still allocating congressional district delegates in a winner-take-all fashion. Both Tennessee and Oklahoma awarded both at-large and congressional district delegates in a proportionate manner in 2012. With nearly the same sets of state-level rules carrying over from 2012 to 2016, both states were already in line with the new, tighter definition of proportionality the RNC has for 2016.

Thus, there are no real changes to those rules in either Oklahoma or Tennessee.

Tennessee Republicans have the highest allowable threshold under RNC rules to qualify for delegates statewide and at the congressional district level. In the vast majority of scenarios, to be awarded delegates, a candidate must win at least 20% of the vote. The only exception is if no one finishes over 20%.

If no candidate clears the 20% hurdle statewide, then the delegates are allocated in proportion to the candidates share of the statewide vote. In other words, if no one hits 20%, the Tennessee primary will basically operate as if there is no threshold.

If no candidate receives 20% of the vote in a congressional district, then the top 3 finishers each receive one delegate.

But as FHQ has stated before, March 1 -- the date on which the Tennessee presidential primary will be held -- the race will have wended its way through the carve-out states and some likely winnowing of the field of candidates. As the field decreases in size, the likelihood of no candidate getting to 20% of the vote in Tennessee (or anywhere else for that matter) decreases as well.

The rules change, however, if more than one candidate exceeds 20% of the vote. If multiple candidates are over 20% statewide, then the delegates would be allocated to those candidates in proportion to their share of the over 20% vote (the total share of just those over 20%). Should that happen at the congressional district level, the top finisher would be allocated two delegates and the district runner-up would take the remaining one.

Finally, there are a couple of winner-take-all situations. But it should be noted that it is a unit-specific winner-take-all, not a truly winner-take-all allocation.1 If only one candidate crests over 20% either statewide or at the congressional district level, then that candidate would win all of the at-large and automatic delegates or congressional district delegates. As in Oklahoma and several other states, there is a backdoor to a modified winner-take-all allocation and with a much lower threshold.

There is also a supermajority threshold for winning all of the delegates as well. If there is more than one candidate over 20% -- again, either statewide or in a congressional district -- and the winner has more than two-thirds of the vote, then that candidate would also lay claim to all of the at-large and automatic delegates or congressional district delegates. Obviously, though, that is a much higher winner-take-all trigger (but lower than the similar threshold in Minnesota).

Needless to say, there are a number of contingencies packaged around these various thresholds. The supermajority trigger seems unlikely to be tripped if the field is large, but even as it -- the field of candidates -- shrinks, the other options, including the backdoor winner-take-all route all would be probable.

Delegate allocation (at-large and automatic delegates)
The statewide results in the March 1 Tennessee presidential preference primary will dictate how many of the 31 at-large and automatic delegates are allocated to which candidates. If multiple candidates are over the 20% threshold, those candidates will win a proportional share of those delegates. Based on the last poll conducted on the race in Tennessee (a November Vanderbilt poll), the statewide allocation would look something like this2:
  • Trump (29%) -- 16.648 delegates
  • Carson (25%) -- 14.352 delegates
  • Cruz (14%) -- 0 delegates
  • Rubio (12%) -- 0 delegates
  • Bush (6%) -- 0 delegates
  • Fiorina (2%) -- 0 delegates
First off, no one is over 67%, so there is no winner-take-all allocation. There is also more than one candidate over 20%, and that means that there is no backdoor winner-take-all allocation. Out of the 6 candidates, only two cleared the barrier and nearly evenly split the 31 at-large and automatic delegates. Trump would be allocated 17 delegates in this scenario and Carson would take 14.

Delegate allocation (congressional district delegates)
If we extend the hypothetical statewide numbers above to the congressional district level, it would trigger a top two allocation. If multiple candidates are over 20%, then the district winner -- hypothetically Trump here -- is allocated two delegates while the runner-up wins the other of the three congressional district delegates.

In both the statewide and congressional district allocation simulations, the results would have been no different if the threshold was lowered to, say, 15%. If it was lower still -- set at 10%, for instance -- then Cruz and Rubio would qualify for at-large delegates. Neither would win any congressional district delegates. The 1-1-1 allocation of the three congressional district delegates is only triggered if no one is above the 20% threshold.

Like Oklahoma, it is not entirely clear how long or how many ballots the bind lasts for Tennessee delegates. That has a lot to do with how the delegates are selected. The at-large delegates are selected in a couple of different ways. Half of them (14 delegates) are elected directly, listed with candidate affiliation on the primary ballot. The other 14 at-large delegates are selected by the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee and with input from the candidates' campaigns. In both cases, those delegates are loyal to their candidate. If that candidate has withdrawn, then those delegates presumably become unbound (or can opt out of attending the convention, in which case the Executive Committee fills the vacancy). The district delegates also appear on the ballot affiliated with (and bond to) the candidate to whom they have pledged. The same rationale applies to them as is the case with the elected at-large delegates.

Update: The three automatic delegates (see above) are bound on the first ballot at the convention, according to Brent Leatherwood, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Republican Party (citing RNC rules). Mr. Leatherwood later tweaked this, indicating a change in TNGOP rules meant the three automatic delegates as well as the rest of the delegation would be bound through two ballots.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 By unit specific FHQ means the winner-take-all allocation is confined to either just the at-large delegates based on the statewide results or just the congressional district delegates based on the results in the several congressional districts. A candidate would have to claim victory by a wide margin in Tennessee to win all 58 delegates.

2 This poll is being used as an example of how delegates could be allocated and not as a forecast of the outcome in the Volunteer state presidential primary.

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