Super Tuesday has come and gone. We now have a slightly clearer picture of the shape of the GOP race for the presidential nomination. Donald J. Trump had a good night on Tuesday, though not quite as good as some of the pundits were predicting beforehand. Overall, Trump won seven of the states awarding delegates on Super Tuesday. Ted Cruz picked up three wins, while Marco Rubio notched his first victory by winning the Minnesota Caucuses. That puts the total at ten wins for Trump, four for Cruz, and one for Rubio. No other candidate has won a state yet. The question is whether or not winning states matters? The short answer is no but it is much more complicated than that.
Why Winning States Does Not MatterThe race for the presidential nomination isn't about winning states, it's about winning delegates. It's all about the method of delegate allocation and compiling enough delegates to win (or deny your opponents the win). In the GOP it is a case of simple math. There are a total of 2472 delegates available to be won by candidates seeking the nomination. To secure the nomination before the Republican National Convention is held in Cleveland this July, a candidate needs to secure at least 1237 delegates. So, winning the most states should mean the candidate who does so wins the nomination, right? Wrong! There are three important factors that help determine who wins the nomination: (1) Where a candidate wins, (2) the margin of victory and, (3) the rules of delegate allocation. Let's take a look at these in order.
Where a Candidate WinsWinning the nomination for president in the GOP is a little like winning the presidency itself...which states a candidate wins matters more than how many. The simple reason for this is that all states are not equal. Some states are larger than others and have bigger populations. Some smaller states have large populations while some large states have small populations. Winning Georgia or South Carolina is far more important than winning Montana or Alaska. It is similar to the Electoral College strategy employed by the nominees for president. States with more electoral votes are worth more to a candidate than states with fewer numbers of electoral votes. The difference is that in the Electoral College all states are winner take all (except Maine and Nebraska). Most states in the Republican primaries are either proportional or a hybrid system that allows the winner to take most of the delegates. Winning in the winner take all states and winner take most states is far more important than winning in the purely proportional states. For example, Donald Trump notched two victories on Tuesday in purely proportional states (Virginia and Vermont) but only gained one more delegate than his rivals between the two states. On the other hand, Ted Cruz won in Texas and secured more than twice as many delegates there as the runner up, Donald Trump. Additionally, states that traditionally vote Republican are more important than states that are swing states or traditionally vote Democratically because loyal states get bonus delegates. So, where a candidate wins matters.
The Margin of VictoryIn addition to the location of a victory, the margin of victory also matters. In many states, winning 50% of the vote triggers a winner take all landslide for the victor. In a two-way race achieving 50% is pretty easy. In a three way contest it is much tougher. None of the candidates has been able to get to 50% in any state so far. If nobody gets to 50% then most of the delegates are awarded proportionally based on the congressional district vote and the statewide vote, with some exceptions. Oklahoma, for example, allocated its 43 delegates proportionally to each candidate that earned at least 20% in a congressional district, which resulted in Ted Cruz winning two more delegates than Trump and three more than Rubio. Combined with where, the margin of victory also matters.
The Rules of Delegate AllocationFinally, the rules are very important when it comes to delegate allocation. For example, South Carolina employed a hybrid winner take all system that allowed Donald Trump to win all the delegates with about 35% of the vote. Yet, in Arkansas, Trump earned a similar percentage of the vote but only got 42.5% of the delegates while Cruz and Rubio combined to take the other 57.5%. As the race moves forward, a few states will allocate their delegates on a winner take all basis after March 15th. Winning these states will matter more than winning the proportional states. The biggest prizes are Ohio and Florida on March 15th with 66 and 99 delegates, respectively.
State of the race on March 2ndFollowing the voting on Super Tuesday, Donald Trump has opened up a good lead on his rivals. My count, based on the totals reported by the Green Papers, is as follows:
- Donald Trump 334 delegates (46.8%)
- Ted Cruz 228 delegates (32.0%)
- Marco Rubio 117 delegates (16.4%)
- John Kasich 28 delegates (3.9%)
- Ben Carson 6 delegates (0.8%)