Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Myth of Republican Proportionality Change

Before FHQ digs into this, go read James Hohmann's piece at Politico on the 2016 delegate selection rules changes the RNC enacted this week at its winter meeting in Washington.1 Then check out Marc Ambinder's reaction to the new rules at The Week.

...then come back and allow me to be nitpicky for a while.

Regular FHQ readers will recall that I spent a great deal of time and space pushing back against the nature of change that the introduction of the proportionality rules caused before and during the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. John Sides and I even showed that it was the calendar changes and not the proportionality requirement that was the culprit -- if a rules-based change was to be blamed -- that drew the process out. And while many continue to harp on the "rebrand" the Republican Party has undertaken with regard to issues, most forget that one of the findings of the Growth and Opportunity Project was that impact of delegate allocation rules (ie: proportionality) is dynamics-dependent. In other words, every nomination race is different and the ways in which those delegate allocation rules affect the process are different because of it.

That said, I think a number of analyses are overstating the changes the Republicans put in place this week. And much of it has to do with the supposedly new proportionality requirements. Hohmann mentions this "new" rule that allows a (proportional) state (before March 15) to award all of its delegates to any candidate that clears the 50% threshold statewide. Additionally, Ambinder hints at the 20% of the vote that states can now require candidates to hit in order to receive any delegates.

Both changes sound like they could have some impact on any race; 2016 or otherwise. But they aren't new. In fact, both thresholds are the exact same as they were in 2012. The only real change is that both have been officially added to the broader list of rules. That wasn't the case in 2012 when the office of the RNC legal counsel provided a memo to states and other ne'er do wells about compliance with the new requirement. That memo was the guide for compliance.

Section III deals with the proportionality requirement and parts iv and v set the thresholds:
iv. A state may establish a minimum threshold of the percentage of votes received by a candidate that must be reached below which a candidate may receive no delegates, provided such threshold is no higher than 20%. 
v. A state may establish a minimum threshold of the percentage of votes received by a candidate that must be reached above which the candidate may receive all the delegates, provided such threshold is no lower than 50%.
Again, this is the 2012 set up and it is no different than what the RNC officially added to the rules this time around. There was no widespread rush on the state level to up the threshold described in part iv above in 2012 (see Alabama as an example) and states like Idaho and Mississippi were among the handful of states that experimented or retained rules that allowed for a winner-take-all allocation of delegates if one candidate received a majority of the statewide vote. In fact, as I pointed out in 2011 and 2012, most states took the road of least resistance in reaction to the rules changes put in place for 2012. That is, states only changed what they had to. Where they complied with the RNC rules, they left well enough alone. This was especially true in states where the minimum threshold for gaining any delegates is set lower than 20% by state law (see New Hampshire and North Carolina for examples)

Now, another cycle of this proportionality requirement being in place may mean that states (state parties and/or state governments) have had additional time to see the true nature of the possibilities. States may have learned some in other words. But that has not really been what has been witnessed over time. Are there changes that take place that seek to exploit -- for the state's gain -- the new rules? Sure, but more often than not, they end up being exception rather than rule.

Will these "new changes" have a pronounced effect? Well, we'll see. FHQ is guessing no, since they aren't really changes for 2016 anyway. In the meantime, let's all be careful about what has changed with these rules and what it may or may not mean for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination race.

One last thing:
Hohmann's conversation with North Dakota national committeeman, Curly Haugland is somewhat misleading. Haugland bemoaned the fact that the RNC did not take up proposed changes to correct the increased Rule 40 requirement on the number of state delegations a candidate has to control in order to have his or her name placed in nomination at the convention. This was a contentious part of the rules discussion in Tampa. Paul-aligned delegates were upset that that number of states was raised from five to eight.

The little secret here is that that rule is untouchable as are all the other rules that deal specifically with the next national convention (Rules 26-42). Rule 12, which was added in Tampa, allows for amendments to be made between conventions to Rules 1-11 and 13-25, but all the other rules -- Rule 40 included -- are off limits (to amendments) until the 2016 convention. That eight state requirement, then, could not be changed at the winter meeting of the RNC and cannot be changed until the 2016 convention.

1 This one is probably the best summary of the changes I've read.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There was a quirk that allowed Arizona and Michigan to schedule primaries before Mar 1, 2016 and suffer a 50% penalty rather than the super-penalty. Was this loophole closed?

Also what happens if you have a state that breaks the scheduling rule and the proportionality rule
as Arizona did in 2012. They held their primary before the allowed date and awarded Romney all the delegates even though Romney got less than 50% of the vote.