Details Matter on Delegate Allocation

As we get closer to actual caucus and primary voting some of the loose CW surrounding the contests will need to give way to more accurate and detailed information. For example, a lot of observers seem to think that Republicans will on March 15 switch from a “proportional” to a “winner-take-all” system for delegate allocation. That’s a gross oversimplification. Prior to March 15 states cannot have a pure statewide winner-take-all system; after that they can. But as Josh Putnam explains at Frontloading HQ, “proportional” is defined in a lot of different ways that do not necessarily mean the kind of directly representative split of delegates that Democrats require. In particular, some states have a “trigger” or “threshold” requirement a candidate must meet before winning any delegates.

And then there are special cases, including one of the “early” states, South Carolina. Whoever wins SC statewide, by whatever margin, wins 29 of the state’s 50 delegates outright. The rest of the delegates are awarded to whoever wins by whatever margin each of the state’s seven congressional districts (each controls three delegates). There won’t be anything “proportional” about the delegate allocation in SC. The odds are very high that the statewide plurality winner is going to be a plurality winner in at least several CDs, thus taking most of the delegate haul even if his or her statewide percentage is well short of a majority. Right now that winner-take-most candidate would be Donald Trump, but things could change.

In other words, the details are going to matter.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.