Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Request: Don't Use the RCP Delegate Interactive Tool as a Mobile Brokered Convention Production Unit

Over the last couple of days FHQ has been asked our thoughts on the Delegate Allocation Interactive Tool at Real Clear Politics.

It's great!

Sean Trende and David Byler have done yeoman's work in not only putting this thing together, but in putting it out there for public consumption. Having put a couple of delegate allocation models together during primary season in 2012, I can tell you that it is, at best, an imperfect science.1 Juggling all of the various factors embedded in the patchwork of delegate allocation rules across the entire country is no easy task. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

However, it does mean that one has to make assumptions about certain factors of the system to model it properly/accurately (see for instance the variation in delegate rounding). And while those assumptions can potentially be fodder for criticism, FHQ would rather take the tool for what it is: an instrument to help us better understand the complexities of the rules, how they are differently implemented across states, and maybe what that means for the 2016 race.

[NOTE: And FHQ really cannot stress enough how open Sean and David are to any and all comments, feedback, perspectives and alternate approaches/assumptions about this thing. This is a first pass. And having spoken with them while they began putting this together, they are intent on improving it into and through primary season.]

But it is that maybe above that is of some overall concern to FHQ. The reactions to this thing have been positive from what I have seen, but I do wonder how people will approach this thing. My fear is that it ends up overemphasizing or artificially inflating the odds (in terms of perceptions on the individual level) of the various contested convention scenarios out there (see for instance this). That overemphasis tends to be on the outcome rather than the input. By input I mean plugging in poll numbers that traditionally have not been predictive at this stage of past races and more importantly the role of winnowing in the process. And that latter option is available, but I wonder how often users will account for those effects. It is relatively easy to produce a contested convention outcome if you carry 14 candidates through the process or even five. But is that the likely path? FHQ does not know to be honest. However, past results point toward a sequential process -- like the one that is still in place for 2016 -- gradually winnowing the field like kids in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

This is FHQ's way of saying that this delegate allocation interactive tool is a very powerful one and its utility will be derived from how it is used. So rather than be critical, let's put the gadget to use in testing a hypothesis.

FHQ likes to talk about rules. Perhaps you have noticed. And there have been some changes to the delegate allocation rules employed by the Republican National Committee between 2012 and 2016. The gadget give us the chance to -- in a very rough way -- estimate the impact of those rules changes. The premise is simple: Take the 2012 primary results, plug them into the tool and see how the path/outcome differs.

There are a lot of questions that come out of this. Does the smaller proportionality window slow down Romney's march to the nomination? Does the tighter definition of proportionality come to the aid of his opponents? Do the winner-take-all states clustered on March 15-22 push Romney over the top? Are the SEC primary states winnowers and the northeastern states coalesced in late April the deciders as Trende and Byler hypothesize?

Before FHQ digs into that, a few notes. First, this, too, is an imperfect approach. The rules are different and so is the sequence of contests. That means that late 2012 states that are early in 2016 have lopsided results that favor Romney (see Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas and Utah). Similarly there are early 2012 states that are later in 2016 where results are likely imprecisely competitive during a likely less competitive part of the calendar (see Washington). There are also some of the warts in the tool's code in this early stage. For instance, the gadget allocates delegates from states like Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming, where it will remain unknown for quite a while -- perhaps up to the convention -- just how many delegates are actually bound to what candidates (in the eyes of the RNC).

Still, there is some utility to be gained in gaming this out despite that.

Here's how this ends up looking:

Please note that Trump = Romney, Carson = Santorum, Rubio = Gingrich, Cruz = Ron Paul, Rand Paul = Perry and Bush = Hunstman.

So Romney still wins. The former Republican nominee would have received 1527 delegates given the caveats detailed above, but also without counting any of the 135 RNC/automatic delegates that are mostly left unbound through the RCP gadget. There are actually 168 of those automatic delegates. Approximately 40% of those delegates are actually bound based on primary or caucus results. The remainder would be unbound. But even without some of those bound automatic delegates, Romney still wins comfortably. His nearest competitor -- Santorum -- ends up with just a quarter of Romney's delegate total. Furthermore, Romney's total competition only amasses a little less than half of his delegate total together.

Well, sure, if a candidate wins 42 out of 56 contests, that candidate is probably going to win the nomination. There's no big surprise there.

The map is nice, but how does this look if we examine the pace with which the candidates accrue delegates over the course of primary season? As it was in 2012, Romney used a win in winner-take-all Florida to establish a lead in the delegate count that widened to roughly a 3:1 ratio after Super Tuesday on March 6, was more firmly established toward the end of March when 50% of the delegates had been allocated, and was solidified by the northeastern primaries in late April.

By the time 75% of the delegates had been allocated -- the week prior to the Texas primary -- Romney all but had the nomination clinched. Texas on May 29 put him over the top. The southern winnowers/northern deciders hypothesis Trende and Byler proffer is basically the 50-75 rule, but perhaps a less precise one, FHQ would argue. But that was basically what the system produced in 2012 under the 2012 rules.

How does this change when the 2016 rules (and calendar) are inserted and combined with the 2012 primary results?

The quick answer is not much. The longer version is it changes but only in a very subtle fashion. With no winner-take-all Florida, Romney would not have broken away from the pack in the same way. Sure, he had the advantage, pulling away from everyone else individually after what would have been the SEC primary. But if we shift our focus to the contested convention scenario, all of Romney competition combined were still neck and neck with Romney after the hypothetical March 1 contests.

That would change after the proportionality window closes and winner-take-all contests are introduced on March 15. Notice how Romney -- already apart from all the other candidates -- separates from even the combined "Anti-Romney" line (in purple). The former Republican nominee's lead only increases from there (after the 50% allocation point), jumping after the northeastern series of contests on April 19-26, but not clinching the nomination until the Oregon primary on May 17. That is about two weeks ahead of where Romney clinched in 2012 under the 2012 rules. Additionally, he does not arrive at that threshold until after the 75% allocation point that is crossed in the northeastern states.

Again, there are caveats to this, but the change in rules from 2012 to 2016 do not bring significant changes to either the outcome of the 2012 Republican nomination race or how the process arrived at its conclusion. What we can say is that the rules changes did not result in a contested convention.

But different inputs in 2016 may alter things. Still, use those winnowing buttons at RCP, folks.

1 You can find more details on those models here and here (WSJ).

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: ARKANSAS

Updated: 3.3.16

This is part six 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: 40 [25 at-large, 12 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 15%
2012: proportional primary

Arkansas is a quirky one. That was true in 2012 and is true in 2016 as well.

Though the Republican Party in the Natural state arrives at proportionality differently than almost any state -- in or out of the proportionality window -- that method has not really changed in the four years since 2012. What has changed most noticeably is that the Arkansas primary is much earlier in 2016 than it was in 2012. The state legislature uprooted the usual May primaries -- presidential and those for statewide and congressional offices -- and moved them to March to coincide with a number of other states in the SEC primary coalition.

And the the Republicans in the state brought their unique delegate allocation formula with them.

As the Arkansas primary fits firmly within the March 1-14 proportionality window on the Republican presidential primary calendar, the method has to be proportional. Again, it is in 2016 as was the case in 2012 (despite not being in the proportionality window four years ago). But how the Arkansas GOP arrives at proportionality is different.

The first consideration in the Arkansas allocation is what it takes to qualify for delegates. And, depending on the level -- statewide or congressional district -- the threshold is different.

At-large/automatic delegates
To receive any of the 28 statewide, at-large and automatic delegates a candidate must clear the 15% threshold. There is no rounding up from, say, 14.5%. A candidate must have a minimum of 15% of the statewide vote be allocated any delegates. However, the resultant allocation of those delegates to candidates is not strictly proportional.

First, each candidate over 15% is awarded one delegate. If one candidate receives a majority of the vote statewide, then that candidate is allocated the remaining at-large/automatic delegates. So, if four candidates clear the 15% barrier and one of those won more than 50% of the vote, then candidates 2-4 each receive one delegate and the top finisher statewide receives the other 25 at-large delegates (1 delegate for clearing 15% and 24 additional delegates for winning a majority statewide). That the other three candidates get any delegates out of this makes the majority trigger here a winner-take-most rather than winner-take-all trigger.

If, however, none of the four candidates in the above scenario wins a statewide majority, then the allocation is more proportional. More proportional, but not strictly proportional. The first step, allocating one delegate to those over 15%, would still have happened. All four candidates would have one delegate. The remaining 21 at-large delegates would be proportionally allocated by rule to the top three finishers statewide. In other words, the candidate finishing fourth statewide -- over 15% in this scenario -- would be stuck on the one delegate and frozen out of any additional delegates.

Let's assume the statewide vote looks something like this1:
Trump -- 30.1%
Carson -- 18.9%
Rubio -- 15.3%
Cruz -- 15.0%

Again, each candidate would receive one delegate to start for clearing the 15% threshold. The remaining 24 at-large/automatic delegates would be proportionally allocated among the top three. Those top three -- Trump, Carson and Rubio -- would have the following, what FHQ will call "real allocation percentages"2:
Trump -- 46.8%
Carson -- 29.4%
Rubio -- 23.8%

That translates to an allocation of those 24 delegates that looks like this:
Trump -- 11.232
Carson -- 7.056
Rubio -- 5.712

It is at this point that the language of the allocation rules gets a bit murky:
The remaining at-large delegates and alternates shall be allocated among the three candidates receiving the greatest vote statewide in proportion to their votes with any fractional proportion of a delegate/alternate being rounded up for the candidate receiving the greater number of votes statewide.
Now, if that said greatest rather than greater, then Trump would be the beneficiary of any and all fractional delegates. Rubio would receive 5 delegates and Carson 7. That would bump Trump up to 12 delegates  plus the one for having cleared 15%. But saying greater instead makes that less clear. At most, though, it means the transference of one delegate. In a true "round any fraction above .5 up" scenario, Rubio would have 6 delegates. However, if all the fractional delegates go to the top votergetter, then Rubio would have 5 delegates with that sizable fraction (.712) heading to Trump.

Regardless, the statewide allocation would end up approximating something like the following:
Trump -- 13
Carson -- 8
Rubio -- 6
Cruz -- 1

What we can take away from this is that the Arkansas rules are designed to benefit those at the top. First, anyone over 15%, but then the top three and then seemingly the winner when it comes to the method of rounding. This is even clearer when one considers that fewer scenarios are laid out in the Arkansas plan than is true in some other delegate allocation plans out there. What FHQ means by that is that there are no specific rules put forth describing the allocation if only one candidate clears the 15% threshold statewide. Should just one candidate receive more than 15% statewide, then that candidate would, absent any rules describing alternatives, receive all 28 at-large and automatic delegates. Like Alabama, the Arkansas plan potentially takes a chaotic primary process -- one with a lot of candidates -- and translates that into a less chaotic allocation of the delegates.
Between July when the above rules were given the green light by the Arkansas Republican Party State Committee and September when they were approved by the Executive Committee, the discrepancy above -- the greater/greatest rounding rule -- was cleaned up and removed. Simpler language replaced it calling for the rounding of fractional at-large to the nearest whole number.

FHQ pulled and posted the July rules that were still posted on the Arkansas Republican Party website in mid-November. The September update was not posted there until after that point.

Congressional district delegates
The rules for allocating the delegates in each of Arkansas' four congressional districts (12 total) are less complex. There is only one threshold; a ceiling threshold. If a candidate wins a majority in a district, then that candidate would be allocated all three delegates from that district. That is a winner-take-all trigger. However, if no candidate wins a majority then the top two candidates split the three delegates in the district. The winner receives two delegates and the runner-up the other remaining delegate. This qualifies as proportional under the Republican National Committee rules, if only by default. At the end of the day, there are only so many ways to proportionally allocate three delegates.

While the plan described above paints a picture of a process that takes chaos and converts it to order via the allocation of delegates to a limited number of competitors, there is a more chaotic caveat to also consider. The delegate slots are only reserved for a candidate to a certain extent. Candidates will only hold those delegate slots as long as there are delegate candidates in the district and state meetings where they are elected to fill them. If a candidate does not have enough delegate candidates to fill his or her available spots, then the unfilled positions go to the candidate with the highest number of votes -- either in the district or statewide -- and available delegate candidates to fill the void.

There are two things to consider when looking at this. The first is that such a process provides for the orderly transference of delegate slots from a candidate who is going to or has dropped out of the race. Presumably, a low finishing candidate drops out and those delegate slots get transferred to the winning candidate.

Yet, one would surely want to think about the variation in organization across the campaigns in this scenario as well. It is a system that seemingly rewards the winners, but could also reward organization too. In the event, then, that none of the top finishers drops out there is still a scenario where delegate positions could move around depending on organization. And this would not necessarily always benefit the winner either statewide or in the congressional districts.

Take our example from above; the one where Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz win some statewide delegates. Trump did pretty well in the vote and won 12 hypothetical delegates. But assume for a moment that Trump does not have 13 Trump-aligned delegate candidates ready to roll. Let's say he only has 8 to run for those 13 slots. In that case, there would be five slots that would move on to another candidate. If Carson had not only 8 delegate candidates to run for the statewide slots he won, but 20 (or even just 12), then those four unfilled Trump slots would move to him. If Carson did not have any extras or not enough extra delegate candidates, then those slots would be transferred to the next highest votegetter with a surplus of delegate candidates.

Winning or getting into the top five or six in Arkansas is one thing, then, but there is a premium placed on organizing enough delegate candidates -- an unofficial slate of them really -- to actually fill the delegate slots allocated based on the primary results.

After all of that is settled, the Arkansas delegates are bound to their particular candidates for the first ballot at the national convention (or if the candidate to whom they are bound drops out after the selection process).

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 These numbers are taken from the Huffington Post Pollster national averages (set to "less smoothing") on November 14, 2015. To stay true to the four candidate scenario described above, we will add 2.7 percentage points to Ted Cruz's total to get the Texas senator to 15%. The numbers other than having four candidates over 15% are inconsequential. The intent is to simulate the allocation in Arkansas.

2 That is the proportion of the vote each candidate received, but calculating the percentage as if only those three candidates (and the votes they received) were involved in the primary.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: ALASKA

Updated 2.29.16

This is part five 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: caucuses
Date: March 1 
Number of delegates: 28 [22 at-large, 3 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 13%
2012: proportional caucuses (with no official threshold)

The method the Alaska Republican Party is using in 2016 to allocate its 28 delegates to the national convention in Cleveland looks a lot like it did four years ago. The party is still holding caucuses. Those caucuses will be continue to be scheduled for the earliest date allowed by national party rules (March 1). And the delegates will be proportionally allocated to candidates based on the results in the presidential preference poll conducted at those caucuses.

Unlike 2012, however, the Republican Party in the Last Frontier will include a threshold that candidates must meet to qualify for any delegates. And it is a somewhat odd threshold: 13% of the statewide vote in the caucuses. Why 13%? FHQ does not have a really good answer to that question. Yet, if one looks back to the results of the last two competitive Republican caucuses -- caucuses in which there was more than just an incumbent president seeking reelection -- 13% is roughly the point that separated those candidates who received delegates and those who did not.

One could look at those results in 2008 and 2012 and come to the conclusion that that sort of threshold would limit the number of candidates qualifying for delegates, specifically limiting to four that group of candidates. That may or may not be the case in 2016. That four candidates were allocated delegates speaks more toward the impact of winnowing in those cycles than anything else. And yes, Alaska is similarly positioned on the 2016 calendar compared to both 2008 and 2012; the earliest allowed date.

But think of that limit of four as something of a floor when considering delegate allocation in Alaska. Mathematically, up to seven candidates could receive delegates in the caucuses based on how the allocation rules are worded. A candidate has to receive at least 13% of the vote to qualify for delegates. It is, then, a hard threshold. One could not get 12.5% of the vote, for example, and be able to round up to 13%.1

What the new threshold, combined with past results, tells us is that there are likely to be anywhere from four to seven candidates who will take delegates away from the Alaska caucuses. Whether the allocation ends up closer to the floor or ceiling there, depends on how the field winnows between now or Iowa and March 1.

Interestingly, if a candidate who has won delegates drops out of the presidential race, those delegates/delegate slots do not become free agents as is the case in other states. Instead, the allocation will be recalculated as if the remaining qualified candidates had been the only candidates to initially qualify following the preference vote in the caucuses.

Let's use the 2012 results as an example.
After the caucuses:
Romney (32.4%) -- 8 delegates
Santorum (29.2%) -- 7 delegates
Paul (24.0%) -- 6 delegates
Gingrich (14.1%) -- 3 delegates 
But now, let's assume that Gingrich drops out:
Romney (37.85%) -- 9 delegates
Santorum (34.10%) -- 8 delegates
Paul (28.05%) -- 7 delegates
The recalculation drops the Gingrich votes from consideration and allocates the delegates to the remaining three candidates as if they had been the only three to qualify (using on the votes that those three received). Basically, the three Gingrich delegates end up even distributed among the remaining candidates.

This is all fine if the candidate withdrawals occur prior to the Alaska Republican state convention in late April next year. The recalculation would be done and delegates would be elected at the state convention and bound to candidates to which they are already pledged.

However, if the withdrawal happens after the delegates have been elected, the delegates aligned with the withdrawing candidate are given the option of switching allegiance to one of the remaining candidates. If they opt not to align with another active candidate or to not align with candidates based on who has available slots, then the party will select delegate candidates who will align with that candidate.

For example, let's assume that Gingrich in the above allocation example dropped out after the state convention and the selection of delegates to fill his three delegate slots has occurred. Those three delegates would not have the option to all go to Romney, for example. The three delegates would have to go -- one each -- to the remaining active candidates as called for in the recalculation. If they opt not to or cannot agree to who they will each re-pledge, then the party has the power to select replacements.

Is this likely to occur? Probably not. By the time the Alaska state convention rolls around, the point on the calendar at which 75% of the delegates will have been allocated will have passed. That has been -- over the last few cycles anyway -- the point at which a presumptive nominee has emerged. If that is again clear by late April 2016, then the delegates will all likely end up allocated to that presumptive nominee anyway. If not, then they are very likely to be allocated to a significantly winnowed field of candidates. At that point in a sequential process, that is likely to be two candidates.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 Under that rounding scenario, eight candidates could tie at 12.5% of the vote and all qualify for three delegates.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Extent of Jeb Bush's Alabama "Problem"

This story that the Jeb Bush campaign and its supporters failed to line up a full slate of delegate candidates littered the FHQ Twitter stream last night and has picked up some steam this morning. Let's be real here: It is certainly something of a problem, but the degree of that problem is being overstated. Much of the reporting thus far on the matter -- on the heels of the Alabama filing deadline late last week -- is missing quite a bit of context. And, really, much of it has missed the real story.

But first, Jeb.

Alabama Republicans will send 50 delegates to the national convention in Cleveland next year. Three of those are automatic delegates (the state party chair, the national committeeman and the national committeewoman) which leaves 47 other delegate slots that candidates, their campaigns and supporters have to fill by filing to run. Of those 47 spots, Bush has 32 delegate candidates covering 29 vacancies. That is short of the more than full slates that candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had filing in support of them.

Looks bad, right?

It is. If a campaign touts its strength in filing a full slate of delegate candidates in Tennessee -- as the Bush campaign has done and others have reported -- then it says something that the campaign has missed the mark further south in Alabama. It says something about organization in an area of the country -- SEC primary territory -- where Bush has spent some time this fall. It says something more that, compared to the other candidates, Bush ranks sixth in terms of the number of Alabama delegate candidates that filed pledged to the former Florida governor.

There are, however, a couple of matters that have gone unsaid and/or underreported in this story. One is that the above it just one comparison. The second is that the process in Alabama -- the rules -- are being overlooked. Both factors when not considered help to overstate the extent of the problem for Bush in Alabama.

Sure, when we look at the 32 delegate candidates that filed on Jeb Bush's behalf compared to the 76 potential delegates that aligned with Carson and Cruz, it looks kind of ominous. Again, it is. FHQ does not want to understate that. In the invisible primary, that is a signal that organizationally, Bush is lagging behind his competitors. Think of this as a straw poll of activists in Alabama, which it functionally is. Jeb Bush just came in sixth. That's winnowing territory.

Yet, look back four years and you will see that all four candidates who made the Alabama presidential primary ballot -- Gingrich, Paul, Romney and Santorum -- all had gaps in the delegate slates that appeared on the ballot next to their names. And yes, that is more an excuse from the Bush perspective than anything else. 2016 is not 2012. However, if FHQ had asked you before the Alabama filing deadline -- so absent this revelation about delegate slates there -- whether Bush would get more or less than 12 delegates (of 47 total), I suspect most would have taken the under given the crowded field of candidates.

Why 12 delegates?

That is the number of delegates Mitt Romney won after the March 13 Alabama presidential primary in 2012. If Bush is a stand-in for 2012 Romney, then those 32 delegate candidates covering 29 slots do not really look all that bad. They cover the bases. Romney won 8 delegates statewide. Bush has 14 at-large delegate candidates covering 13 (of 26) slots. Romney won the first congressional district in 2012 but with less than a majority (two delegates) and was runner up in the fifth and sixth districts (one delegate each). Bush has at least two delegate candidates in each of those three districts.

The delegates slots that Bush is most likely to win, then, are covered. The harder part, perhaps, is getting to the 20% of the vote statewide and in the congressional districts to qualify for those delegates. That strikes FHQ as a much larger Alabama problem at the moment.

Well, what if the at this moment problem is not a problem after the March 1 primary in the Yellowhammer state? What happens if Bush actually exceeds expectations and wins more delegates than his campaign has delegate candidates to cover?

First of all, Bush would still likely have enough delegate candidates to cover his bases even given a winnowed field. But on the offhand chance that Bush really exceeds expectations, and he wins, say, 35 delegates, what happens?

The Alabama Republican Party allocation rules state that voters cannot vote for Jeb Bush and then vote for delegate candidates aligned another candidate to fill in blanks left by Bush. There is no procedure to discard ballots for conflicts (i.e.: voting for Bush and then voting for a Rubio delegate where there is no Bush delegate), but the comments of the Alabama Republican Party seem to indicate that the topline, presidential preference vote has precedence over the delegate votes.1 The candidate is going to get their delegates in other words.

But how?

Well, if a voter cannot vote for Bush and then a delegate candidate not aligned with Bush, then that means that Bush is winning the top line vote. However, that also means those delegate slots are not being filled. Those slots are vacant.

The first step in filling those vacancies is through the alternate delegate process. The alternate delegates are not elected directly on the ballot. Instead, the state party executive committee selects alternates for the statewide at-large delegates while alternates for congressional district delegate slots are selected by the congressional district committees. There could theoretically be some jockeying on these committees to stack the alternate slates, but recall that these decisions are being made after the vote in the presidential primary. And again, the state party has said that the candidates will receive their rightful share of the delegates based on the vote in the primary.

And in the event there are any shenanigans based on one candidate exceeding expectations -- at least as measured by a comparison to how well their campaign did in lining up delegate candidates -- then the state executive committee will fill those slots.

Is all this a black eye for Jeb Bush and his campaign during a downward trend for them? Sure, but is it the end of the world? No. Bush seems to have his bases covered for even a reasonable result for him in Alabama. But even if he exceeds even the 2012 Romney baseline, the Alabama rules provide cover.

...and that is true for the other candidates who played the delegate filing game even worse than Bush as well.

1 Those comments from Reed Phillips at ALGOP (via Daniel Malloy at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
A candidate that wins enough of the vote to be allocated any delegates, will still receive the number of delegates that they won in the primary. If there are any vacancies in delegate slots then the delegates that did qualify will vote to fill those vacancies for that candidate. If a candidate didn’t have anyone qualify as a delegate for them but wins enough of the vote to have delegates, then the state executive committee will vote to fill those slots.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

2016 Republican Delegate Allocation: ALABAMA

Updated: 2.29.16

This is part four 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: 50 [26 at-large, 21 congressional district, 3 automatic]
Allocation method: proportional (with winner-take-most trigger statewide and congressional district)
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 20% statewide and within each congressional district
2012: proportional primary (same winner-take-most trigger, same 20% threshold)

Like New Hampshire, the primary in Alabama will operate under the same rules that it did four years ago. Unlike New Hampshire, that will mean a proportional allocation of two different pools of Alabama delegates, statewide, at-large delegates and congressional district delegates. Additionally, to qualify for either type of delegates, the candidates must clear a 20% threshold; twice the bar in New Hampshire. First, the basics:

If one candidate receives a majority of the statewide vote...
That candidate wins all 26 at-large delegates.

If one candidate receives a majority of the vote in a congressional district...
That candidate wins all three delegates from that district.

With multiple candidates currently involved in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, a majority candidate statewide and/or in each of the seven congressional districts is less likely. The field has winnowed between Iowa (and through New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) and the SEC primary on March 1, but the emergence of the type of consensus candidate necessary to win a majority statewide much less across all seven congressional districts stretches thin what is probable. One candidate, then, is not likely to leave the Yellowhammer state with all 50 delegates.

However, while no candidate is likely to win a majority -- either statewide or on the congressional district level -- with multiple candidates involved, there is a backdoor path to winning a majority of the Alabama delegation. That happens if only one candidate surpasses the 20% threshold statewide or within a congressional district. Should only one candidate clear 20% statewide, that candidate already would control 50% +1 (delegate) of the Alabama delegation without even considering the results in the congressional districts (29 including both the at-large and automatic delegates).

The interesting thing here is that the Alabama Republican Party allocation system converts a significant amount of potential chaos into a potentially orderly allocation of the delegates. In fact, the more candidates involved, the more likely it is that no candidates meet or one candidate meets the 20% barrier. As the number of candidates drops, though, the likelihood of just one candidate clearing 20% drops as well. As that number -- the number of candidates -- approaches two, the likelihood of one candidate hitting the 50% threshold for winning all of the delegates statewide and/or in the congressional districts increases.

On either extreme, then, there is a potential trigger of a winner-take-most system; one with a 20% threshold and the other with a 50% bar. In between, and possibly where a March 1 contest will line up anyway, there is a level of competition where multiple candidates approach 20% and thus qualify for delegates.

But even in that sweet spot, if one wants to call it that, there is a limiting effect. Mathematically, up to five candidates can receive "at least 20%" of the vote. With other candidates drawing some votes away, however, that number is going to be four or fewer. In other words, the allocation rules in Alabama will tend toward either winnowing the field or reinforcing the winnowing that has already occurred in the carve out state contests.

That means that statewide, unless the above conditions are met, the 29 at-large and automatic delegates will be proportionally allocated among the candidates who clear 20%.1 Within the congressional districts, if multiple candidates clear 20%, then the top votegetter would receive two of three delegates while the runner-up would be awarded one.2

In the end, the Alabama Republican delegate allocation rules are something of a Rube Goldberg machine. While the method is perhaps over-engineered, there are some interesting escape values and trap door contingencies that depend on the field size and the dynamics of the race heading the March 1 SEC primary states.

Delegates will be bound to qualifying presidential candidates based on the rules above unless and until either 1) the candidate to whom the delegate is bound withdraws from the race for the Republican nomination and releases the delegates from their pledge or 2) if, by a two-thirds vote, the total number of delegates bound to that candidate opt to unalign/unpledge from that candidate at the national convention. On this second route, there is little room for abuse.

The rule provides just enough wiggle room for delegates to get out of the pledge but only in the scenario where there are multiple ballots/votes to determine the nominee at the convention. Both the chairman of the Alabama delegation and/or the secretary of the Republican National Convention have the authority to enforce the original pledge. And while the design is to release delegates from pledges in the event of a prolonged vote for the nominee at the convention, there is no expressed number of ballots after which delegates are released.

That said, the implication would seem to be that that point would fall after a first inconclusive ballot. That determination would be left up to the state delegation chairman or the convention secretary though.

State allocation rules are archived here.

1 In that case, the denominator for determining the proportionate share of delegates is the vote total only for those candidates over 20%. The exception is if no one clears that barrier. Should no candidate hit 20%, the allocation is proportional as if there was no threshold. To round up to a full delegate a candidate would have to win approximately 1.924% statewide.

2 Again, if no candidate clears 20%, then, as with the case at the statewide level, the allocation becomes proportional as if there is no threshold. Unless one candidate has a large advantage -- as large as one can be without being over 20% in the congressional district -- then the allocation is likely to one delegate to each of the top three finishers in the district.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Karl Rove Tries His Hand at a Brokered Deadlocked Convention Scenario...

...and the results aren't pretty.

Count FHQ among the skeptics when it comes to the quadrennial parlor game that is "[fill in the blank] party will have a brokered convention and here's why." For the 2016 cycle all eyes are once again on the Republican Party and the potential for a chaotic 15-candidate field to yield an equally chaotic nomination process (through the primaries and caucuses) that in turn leads to a national convention serving as the final arbiter. The 2016 version of the parlor game can now include Karl Rove in its ranks.

The only problem is he does a stunningly bad job of weaving the chaos to deadlocked convention scenario. Let's break this down:

First, Rove essentially tells us how the field of candidates is likely to winnow. He shunts the bottom ten to the side and focuses on a race he sees coming down to Bush, Carson, Cruz, Rubio and Trump. The first rule of the brokered convention game is to not pre-winnow the field. That was mistake number one. And it is a big one. If 15 is chaotic, then 5 candidates seems, well, normal.

After winnowing the field for us, Rove then jumps into the delegate selection process. To me, this was just tough to read. Rove's accounting of the rules was riddled with mistakes and inaccuracies:

1) "The exception is South Carolina, whose winner-take-all primary was grandfathered in."
This is a loose definition of winner-take-all. The winner of the South Carolina primary will not necessarily win all of the Republican delegates from the Palmetto state. South Carolina is a winner-take-most primary. The statewide winner will claim the at-large delegates and the winner of each of the state's seven congressional districts will win three delegates per congressional district won. To win them all, a candidate would have to win in a variety of districts and by quite a lot statewide. 
2) "Add in the eight states voting on or after March 15 that also award their delegates proportionally, and some 60% of the convention’s likely total of 2,470 will be allotted that way."
That 60% proportional figure seems a bit high. Proportional means different things in different states. As Rove notes, some states have a floor percentage that candidates must hit in order to qualify for delegates in that state (and/or their congressional districts). Others have no such floor. However, Rove failed to mention that there is also a floor for triggering a winner-take-all allocation in some proportional states at the state or district level. Sure, the argument could be made that in a wild race with many candidates, no one is going to hit the 50% level that some states have in place to become winner-take-all (or winner-take-most). But if the field winnows to five or fewer candidates, hitting that majority threshold and thus a winner-take-all allocation becomes more likely. And a deadlocked convention becomes less likely in that scenario. Not more. 
3) "On March 15 five states and one territory, awarding 361 delegates, will vote. Of these, 292 will be winner-take-all."
Misleading. Period. First, those five states on March 15 (Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio) and one territory (Northern Mariana Islands) account for 367 delegates, not 361 as Rove notes. Of those 367, only 174 are truly winner-take-all (defined as "you win the state, you win all the delegates"). That's Florida's 99, Ohio's 66 and the Mariana's 9. That's it. North Carolina is proportional. Missouri is winner-take-most. The winner of the statewide vote would only receive 9 at-large delegates (out of 52 delegates total). Illinois is a loophole primary where congressional district delegates are directly elected on the primary ballot. Like Missouri, only the at-large delegates are allocated to the winner of the statewide primary in Illinois. There are only 15 at-large delegates at stake in that primary.
4) "The final primaries will be held June 7, when 294 delegates, all but 21 chosen by winner-take-all, will be at stake. California and New Jersey will dominate that day."
The claim that only 21 delegates out of 294 are allocated in some manner other than winner-take-all would mean something if it were true. It isn't. Say it with me, folks, "California is not winner-take-all." No one is going to walk into the Golden state on June 7 and leave with all 172 delegates. Actually, that's not true. Someone could do that, but that candidate would likely already be the presumptive nominee (see 2012), and that does not fit with Rove's narrative of a brokered convention. New Jersey is truly winner-take-all. South Dakota is truly winner-take-all. So is Montana. California is like South Carolina above: winner-take-most/winner-take-all by congressional district. 
5) "Moreover, GOP rules allow for the creation of “superdelegates,” with more than half of state parties exercising the option to make their chairman, national committeewoman and national committeeman automatic delegates. These uncommitted delegates, 210 in all, could be the most fluid force in the convention if no candidate has locked in victory."
FHQ doesn't know where to start with this one. Well, this idea that the RNC rules allow for the "creation" of superdelegates is as good a place as any. What is more chaotic and brokered conventiony than making it seem like the national party can stack the deck in some way for some preferred candidate? In the Year of the Outsider and discontent with the party establishment, probably nothing. Only, the only thing that is nefarious here is how Rove has described it. The state party chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman are automatically delegates to the convention. That is why they are called automatic delegates. Neither these folks nor those positions are created. They exist. There is no swelling of their ranks to increase their power. Rather, this is a set number of delegates.
Actually it is a set number of delegates the power of which Rove overstates by mixing their discussion in with uncommitted delegates. Some of the automatic delegates are bound (roughly 40% of the 168 total automatic delegates) and the remainder are unbound. That roughly 60% of the automatic delegates gets combined with the unbound delegations from North Dakota, Wyoming and the fraction of Pennsylvania delegates (congressional district delegates) who are unbound. But let's put those automatic delegates in their proper context. 
There is a lot of nuance to all of this -- the rules -- that Rove just glosses over, all the while painting an inaccurate picture of how nomination system works or is likely to work in 2016. Again, FHQ is skeptical of the deadlocked convention scenario and the chaos theory more generally, but even brokered convention fans would counter Rove that he left out the biggest problem in the rules: the new Rule 40. Heck, it (Rule 40) is even back in the news this week. Rove, then, is wrong on both sides.

The Rule 40 issue depends on this: 1) early states are proportional, 2) there are a lot of candidates running for the Republican nomination, and 3) one of those candidates has to control of majority of the delegates from at least 8 states to be nominated at the national convention.

Some would contend that that combination will mean that no one will get to the 1230-something delegates necessary to clinch the nomination and that furthermore, either no one will control 8 delegations or multiple candidates will. The problem with the problem that is Rule 40 is that it assumes there is no winnowing or only winnowing to a certain point and that is just not how things tend to work in a sequential system like the presidential nomination process. Each week or every few days there are new results give advantage to one candidates and puts pressure on others to withdraw. Lack of support leads to dwindling resources. Dwindling resources leads to a future lack of support in primaries and caucuses.

That's exactly why Rove almost immediately eliminated ten of the 15 candidates before jumping into the rules. He probably should have kept going.

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