***2012 Primaries By the Numbers

Rob Richie of the FairVote organiztion has a cool item at HuffPost today that looks a little more deeply at the 2012 GOP primary and caucus results than has been the case in most MSM accounts. Richie’s most interesting point is his comparison of actual delegate totals with what they would look like under a strictly winner-take-all system and a truly proportional system. His general conclusion is that the awards so far much more closely resemble those of a winner-take-all than a proportional system, despite the RNC’s general ban on winner-take-all systems in contests held prior to April 1. Mitt Romney has benefited particularly from this phenomenon, winning 54% of the delegates so far as opposed to the 39% he would have earned under a truly proportional system. Gingrich and Ron Paul, on the other hand, have fallen far short of proportional awards.

Richie doesn’t much get into why this has occurred, but it’s a combination of factors. First of all, the “proportional” requirement has not been taken very literally by most states, and the RNC has not been inclined to differ with them. The prevailing interpretation seems to be that the rules only prohibit statewide winner-take-all systems prior to April 1. Some states (e.g., SC and MI) have largely utilized winner-take-all by congressional district. Many of the others have limited proportionality (either in CD or statewide awards) with “thresholds” that require a certain performance to win any delegates, and with rough divisions of CD delegates that award first and second place finishers but not by any strict proportional split (e.g., 2 delegates for first place finishers and 1 for second-place finishers). The thresholds and limited awards obviously punish third- and fourth-place finishers, which is mainly why Gingrich and Paul have suffered.

A second big anomaly is that Florida and Arizona blatantly violated the rules by holding straight-out statewide winner-take-all primaries. But since the RNC had already exhausted its penalties for these states (most notably, the loss of half their voting power at the Convention) for violating the calendar rules, it’s taken the position there is nothing more they can do to them. Since Romney won both these states, he both suffered (from the loss of voting power) and gained (from the statewide winner-take-all awards) from their scofflaw behavior.

Richie also summarizes the turnout data for the primaries to date, reporting that it’s down about 10% overall from 2008, despite the lack of competitive Democratic primaries (at least in the majority of states that haven’t had down-ballot primaries at the same time) to draw away voters (yes, some primaries and caucuses have been “closed,” theoretically preventing competition, but most states allow late registration changes even if they technically ban crossover voting).

The best thing about exercises like Richie’s is that they challenge sometimes-erroneous media narratives before they turn into the conventional wisdom of the next cycle. So it saves everyone the archeological effort of digging through the results from past years to determine the truth.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.