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.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

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.