This is part forty-nine 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: June 7
Number of delegates: 172 [10 at-large, 159 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: winner-take-most/winner-take-all by congressional district
Threshold to qualify for delegates: n/a
2012: winner-take-most primary
Changes since 2012
The opening of the Section 3 summary of the California Republican Party delegate selection rules in the party's 16F filing with the Republican National Committee says it all:
California rules have not changed from those applicable to the 2012 convention.And that is true. The primary still falls on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June as it did four years ago. The delegates are allocated by a winner-take-most formula. Additionally, those delegates are chosen by the candidates and their campaigns rather than in caucuses/conventions that give the candidates less control over who is bound to them.
Since California Republicans use a winner-take-all by congressional district method of awarding delegates, there are no thresholds candidates must meet in order to qualify for delegates. The plurality winner(s) is/are allocated all of the delegates either statewide or within the congressional districts.
Delegate allocation (at-large and automatic delegates)
The 13 at-large and automatic delegates are allocated to the winner of the statewide contest. Relative to other winner-take-most states like South Carolina or Wisconsin, California's is a rather modest winner's bonus. Winning South Carolina meant winning just over half of the total number of delegates to be allocated. In Wisconsin, the at-large delegates comprised more than a third of the total number of delegates. That much more closely resembles a true winner's bonus.
Another way to look at it is that a challenger to the statewide winner would find it difficult overcome the deficit created by a loss statewide in the congressional districts. That is not necessarily the case in California, where the at-large (and automatic delegates) only make up a little less than 8% of the delegates the state has to offer. Theoretically, a challenging candidate could overcome the winner's bonus deficit by winning five more congressional districts (in a pool of 53) than the statewide winner. That is a scenario where the statewide winner's support would be concentrated in a smaller number of districts with a greater number of votes/voters.
There is, then, a path by which a candidate other than the statewide winner could win the delegate race in California. However, while that path looks good on paper, the allocation rules have not tended to work that way in practice in the Golden state.
Take 2008. The California primary was in early February, concurrent with a number of other states and at a much more competitive point on the primary calendar. Furthermore, John McCain's victory statewide was by about 7.5 percent over Mitt Romney. That is not necessarily close, but not a landslide either. McCain got the 10 at-large delegates, and that statewide win was nearly uniformly distributed across the 53 districts. Romney took just four of them for 12 delegates.
The takeaway, as has been the case with other winner-take-most states, is that the statewide results would have to be really close for the winner to be imperiled in any way in the delegate count coming out of the state. That is less true in smaller (and/or more Republican states using the allocation method) than in California where there are more opportunities/districts. Yet, even in California, that has not tended to occur.
Some of that has to do with how late the primary is; typically after the a presumptive nominee has emerged.
Delegate allocation (congressional district delegates)
The allocation in the 53 congressional districts is simple enough: win the district, win its three delegates. The difference for California is that its congressional districts alone account for more delegates than are available in any other state.
As mentioned above, the candidates and their campaigns form a slate of delegates ahead of the June primary. The results of the primary determine which delegates -- from which campaign -- will head to the national convention. At the convention, those delegates "shall use his or her best efforts at the convention for the party’s presidential nominee candidate from California to whom the delegate has pledged support until the person is nominated for the office of President of the United States by the convention, receives less than 10 percent of the votes for nomination by the convention, releases the delegate from his or her obligation, or until two convention nominating ballots have been taken." Unless any of the other conditions are met, then, the California delegation is bound through the first two ballots at the national convention.
State allocation rules are archived here.