Today, Ross Douthat quotes my post yesterday about Donald Trump’s current strength. He also says Trump is doomed because he will hit a ceiling of support around 30%. But even if that ceiling holds, it might not matter – because of how delegates are chosen.
The Republican Party has adopted a set of rules in which delegates are said to be allocated proportionally from Iowa/New Hampshire until Super Tuesday on March 1. However, there is a catch. In most states, if a candidate gets below some threshold of the statewide* vote, he/she gets no delegates.
Between now and Super Tuesday, 15 states will caucus or hold primaries. Here are some thresholds:
- 20% threshold: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont.
- 10-15% threshold: New Hampshire, Alaska, Arkansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma.
The arrowheads indicate approximate current standings in national and Iowa/New Hampshire polls. Two observations:
- Trump is the only candidate who is consistently above threshold.
- To get above threshold, other candidates have to claw their way over one another.
Obviously, as some lower-tier candidates drop out, others will get above threshold. This is a situation that bears watching.
I have done some preliminary simulations. The results suggest that with the field divided as it currently is, a candidate at 35-40% popular support can easily get over 50% of the statewide delegates in these first 15 states. Soon, I will share the results of these simulations.
Generally, these rules seem to be designed to avoid splintering of the field into many minor candidates. They reward candidates who can get a reasonable level of support, even if that is not a majority. Starting a few weeks after Super Tuesday, GOP primaries will start to use winner-take-all rule, in which a plurality is enough to win all the statewide delegates.
So, if you want to say that Trump is doomed, it would be best not to hang the argument on a ceiling of support that is below 50%. That ceiling will matter more if he faces only one other opponent. Calling the “establishment”!
*Some delegates are assigned on a Congressional district or region-by-region basis, carving a state into smaller areas for purposes of assigning delegates. These rules are byzantine, and I will address them at a future date. Let’s just say that rendering them in code is a long process.
P.S. Oh, yes…there is also this:
Contra Douthat, Trump’s ceiling isn’t 30%. 58% of GOP primary voters in Dec NBC/WSJ said they *could* support him — up from 23% in March
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) January 7, 2016