Monday, February 8, 2016

Two Things to Watch in the New Hampshire Delegate Race on the Republican Side

UPDATED 2/9/16

Mainly the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will be fighting for a win and/or jockeying for position in Tuesday's primary. But there are couple of factors to watch as the returns come in that will affect the resulting delegate count coming out of the Granite state.

While New Hampshire does not offer a windfall of delegates, depending on how the voting shakes out the winner could end up with a surplus of delegates -- under the New Hampshire law that guides the allocation process -- that far outstrips the one delegate that separated first from third place in Iowa's caucuses. That surplus hinges on two things:

First, how many candidates finish over the 10 percent threshold necessary to claim any delegates? The current polling in the Granite state on the Republican race has Donald Trump well out in front. And while those numbers may not translate to votes, that fact does underline something perhaps more important for the candidates immediately behind the real estate mogul: the fluidity of polling in New Hampshire. Accurate or not, the polling has a number of candidates hovering around that 10  percent  mark; something that has not gotten enough attention amid discussions of debate performances and impending voting.

Unlike in some other states, candidates in the New Hampshire primary receive a share of delegates in proportion to their vote. If a candidate wins 11 percent of the vote, that candidate is allocated 11 percent of the delegates. Other states proportionally allocate delegates in a manner that considers a candidate's share of the vote among just the qualifying candidates; those who meet or exceed the threshold. In that scenario, a candidate who wins 11 percent of the vote would be awarded slightly more than 11 percent of the delegates.

This is an important distinction because it leaves some number of unallocated delegates because of the threshold.

The second factor to keep an eye on as the votes are being counted tomorrow night is how much of a percentage of the total vote are the candidates not qualifying for delegates taking. A larger under the threshold percentage means a greater number of unallocated delegates. If, for instance, Donald Trump wins 31 percent of the vote and Marco Rubio places second with 15 percent, but Bush, Cruz and Kasich dip below 10 percent, that leaves 54% of the vote below the threshold. That leaves over half of the delegates unallocated.

Only, that unallocated portion is awarded to the winner of the primary. Trump would claim seven delegates for the 31 percent won to the three Rubio would win for pulling in 15 percent of the vote. However, an additional 12 delegates -- that 54 percent share -- would be allocated to Trump.

Trump, then, would leave the Granite state with 16 delegate surplus. Again, that would be 16 times greater than the cushion Cruz brought out of Iowa. This is an important point. No, not necessarily for Trump specifically, but it is these sorts rules-based differences that can be meaningful in a protracted race for a presidential nomination. If it becomes a state-to-state battle, then these delegate margins start to matter more and more.

To drive home the point about the New Hampshire rules -- and these two factors in particular -- let's go back and assume that Trump and Rubio keep their respective shares, Cruz and Kasich hold steady at around 13 percent (rather than falling below the threshold) and Jeb Bush manages to stay over the 10 percent threshold (to say, 11 percent). That is five candidates over the threshold set by New Hampshire state law with a collective 83 percent of the vote. That leaves only 17 percent unaccounted for under the threshold. Just five delegates.

After Trump takes his seven delegates and Rubio his three, Cruz and Kasich each also grab three and Bush two more. The five "unallocated" delegates are added to Trump's count for 12 delegates total and just a nine delegate surplus when compared to the 16 delegate cushion in the simulation with just two candidates above the threshold and the others below it gobbling up a significant percentage of the total vote. As the number of candidates above the threshold increases, the percentage below the threshold tends to decrease.

No, there are not a lot of delegates on the line in New Hampshire on February 9. However, the rules are in place to make New Hampshire potentially more valuable than Iowa proved to be and perhaps even some larger proportional states deeper into the calendar.

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