More Than Polls and Campaigns

Aug. 4, 2015 — Just after the first two 2016 presidential debates, the media coverage will undoubtedly center on the candidates and the plethora of public polls that will test public response.  But, there is another important process facet that won’t receive any attention: the voting schedule and delegate allocation.

As the campaign now begins to unfold in earnest, it is clear that the Democratic nomination is headed Hillary Clinton’s way.  Though she has serious flaws as a national candidate, her weaknesses are not a particular factor before her own party’s electorate.

National polls consistently show her barely ahead of several Republican candidates, and having major problems convincing the general electorate of her honesty, trustworthiness, and whether she cares about the average voter.  Yet, these negatives do not appear to be dissuading the Democratic primary voters.

Hence, the real action continues on the Republican side particularly with the prospect of their 17-candidate confab ending in a brokered convention.  The emergence of Donald Trump, and the fact that as many as seven GOP candidates have attracted double-digit support in national or state polling, makes it even more difficult for one candidate to secure the 1,236 delegate voters required to claim the GOP nomination.

Considering this background, we begin to calculate potential delegate totals and key timing focal points necessary for one candidate to cobble together a winning coalition.

As we know, the first four states to vote are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, now in this order.  Since the Nevada legislature did not change the state’s voting system from a caucus to a primary, it appears their  caucus meetings will come a couple of days after South Carolina’s Saturday primary instead of before.  Therefore, unofficial target dates suggest the Iowa Caucus on Feb. 1, followed quickly by New Hampshire on Feb. 9, South Carolina on the 20, with Nevada as soon as three days later.

The aggregate delegate total for these four states, however, is only 133, and even the 30 Iowa delegates won’t be definitively chosen until much later in the year.

Three other days are key.  March 1 is likely to become “Super Tuesday”, as 12 states could conceivably schedule their nominating event on that day.  If so, 676 Republican delegates, or 27 percent of the aggregate national number, could then be decided.

March 15 is the first day a state, under Republican National Committee rules, may choose the Winner-Take-All (WTA) option.  Right now, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, and Missouri look to vote that day, with the Sunshine and Buckeye States (99 and 66 delegates, respectively) categorized as WTA entities.

Another key date will likely be June 7, the final multiple-state voting day.  Since the large field may well remain undecided all the way through this period, the five states voting then: California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, may decide things.

California, the largest Republican delegate state (172) will use a Winner-Take-All by congressional district system.  This means the state will actually host 54 delegate-apportioning events that day, one for each of their 53 congressional districts in addition to awarding 10 delegates to the statewide winner.  At this time the final voting event, the Washington, DC WTA primary (16 delegates), is now scheduled for June 14.

So far, the schedule only features seven Winner-Take-All states (Arizona, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, and Utah) for a total of just 349 delegate votes, or 14 percent of the aggregate total.  The small number in this category greatly increases the chance of an open convention.  At this point, 21 states and territories are looking to schedule before March 15, meaning they must be proportional. These 21 places account for 995 delegates, or a full 40 percent of the national total.

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