Editor’s Note: This post was written by Samantha Coons & Marlena Mareno and is the finalpart of our continuing series on evaluating the 2016 presidential nominations process. Part 1 examined the advantages & disadvantages of our current system; Part 2 looked at minor reforms; Part 3 evaluated the proposal for a single national primary day. This post explores in detail how the 2016 Republican rules (focusing on New York State) helped Donald Trump secure victory earlier than he would have under different rules.
Donald Trump spent several months (from February through May) of his campaign claiming the deck is stacked against him, that the GOP rules are unfair, and that the RNC is conspiring against him. Yet, not only were these rules in place long before Trump announced his candidacy, but they have been proven to advantage the frontrunner by incorporating winner-take-all rules at the statewide or congressional district level. Under these rules, a candidate may win about half of the state’s popular votes, yet receive all of the state’s delegates. With this system, runner-up candidates miss out on gaining any delegates when in reality, they may be only a few percentage points away from the leader. The Democratic Party enforces rules that give runner-up candidates more of a chance, often keeping a closer race than what the GOP permits. Had the GOP allocated delegates similar to the system the Democratic Party utilizes with a 15% threshold and proportional allocation in each state/district, the outcome of the Republican Party’s nomination process might have been different.
For example, New York follows a hybrid system which incorporates the winner-take-all system within the congressional districts. New York has 81 congressional district delegates (3 for each of the state’s 27 congressional districts), 10 state delegates, 3 party delegates, and one bonus delegate. Under New York Republicans’ rules, if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote within the district, or if only one of the candidates receives 20% or more of the votes in that district, then the leading candidate receives all 3 district delegates. These rules are meant to ensure that the front-runner wins as many delegates as possible to help them reach 1,237. Under these rules, Trump was able to collect 90 of the 95 New York Delegates, while only winning 60.46% of the state’s popular vote. Kasich received only 5 delegates with 25.02% of the popular vote and Cruz received zero delegates but still won 14.52% of the popular vote.
In order to see if RNC rules do in fact have a major effect on Trump’s delegate totals, we went through the vote percentages from each New York congressional district and found how many delegates Trump would have received under DNC rules. DNC rules are uniform across each state and territory. There is a mandatory 15% threshold candidates must reach; after reaching this threshold, delegates are then allocated proportionally. To determine the new delegate allocation, we took the percent each Republican candidate earned per district in the April 19 New York Republican primary election, multiplied it by 3, then divided the resulting number by 100. The resulting numbers were between zero and three. To proportionally allocate delegates, we used the following base for rounding: >.6 =1 delegate, >1.6= 2 delegates, and >2.6 = 3 delegates. The exception to this method was when the percent per candidate was under 15%, in which case the lead candidate received the extra delegates.
Under DNC allocation rules, Trump would have only received roughly 48 district delegates, while Kasich would have earned 24, and Cruz would have earned 9, compared to the RNC’s allocation rules, which awarded Trump 75 district delegates, Kasich 5, and Cruz 0. The statewide delegates would have split 10-4 between Trump and Kasich (with Cruz below the 15% threshold), whereas Trump earned all 14 under the the current rules. This would give Trump a total of 58 delegates from New York State under the DNC Rules. Under the current Republican rules, Trump earned a total of 89 delegates from the Empire State.
This demonstrates that the RNC rules in many states benefit a front-runner candidate, disproving Trump’s claims that the rules hindered his success. Had the Republican Party adopted a more proportional set of rules, similar to the Democratic Party, Trump’s lead may not have been as drastic. Under these more proportional rules, winner-take-all states such as Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Delaware, Nebraska, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, along with numerous hybrid states similar to New York, could have had very different and closer results, ones in which Trump may not have been as happy with. In turn, other candidates who fared relatively well in some of these states but lost delegates due to the winner-take-all rules (such as Marco Rubio in Florida), may have felt safe staying in and pushing for a contested convention.
Instead of making outlandish claims that the party is conspiring against him, Trump should be thankful that the RNC practices the rules they currently have. With a different system, Trump could potentially be feeling the pressure from other candidates, however, he now sits as the party’s nominee because he was able to collect numerous delegates through winner-take-all systems, while the other candidates often did not receive any.