Republican Primary Standings

For as long as I have the motivation to continue this blog, I’ll update the “standings” for each party’s primary. These “standings” will consist of each candidate’s “score” in the delegate “projections” according to the “responsible” news media and other websites.

Why all the quotes? Because primary standings are really not a science. You’re going to find that different sources have different delegate counts. Between district delegates, at large delegates, pledged delegates, unpledged delegates, bound delegates, unbound delegates, party leader delegates, superdelegates, pooperdelegates, primary delegates, and quirky caucus delegates (I may have made one of those up), a lot of the supposed delegate totals come from subjective decisions on what to include, or even flat out guesswork projections.

Take Iowa as an example. Iowa — or, you know, one half of the contests of this young primary season — is a great example of how little we are actually certain of in terms of delegate totals. Remember the convoluted process of the Iowa caucuses? Don’t forget that Iowa doesn’t cast ballots for the Republican National Convention, which actually picks the nominee, until spring. The process of doing so only began on February 1. Not one vote was actually cast for the nominee that day, not one delegate officially assigned. Only delegates to the state’s 99 county conventions were chosen, and those will take place next month. And then those conventions will only be electing delegates to the four district conventions to be held in April.  Only then do national convention delegates start to get chosen, although all of them won’t be chosen until May at the Iowa state convention. (It’s worth noting, however, that this year, for the first time, Iowa is making a sincere effort to have their national convention delegates mirror what the people of Iowa wanted on February 1.) Between now and then, candidates will drop out, and delegate counts from Iowa will shift.

So these networks who are telling you how many delegates Clinton, Sanders, Cruz, and Trump earned from the Iowa caucuses are just guessing. They’re projecting based on raw vote totals, precinct results, and delegate equivalents. And their projections don’t always agree. (More on that later.)

Another problem will persist in our calculations. What do we do with the delegates of candidates who drop out? In many cases, these withdrawn candidates will have already won “bound delegates.” Those bound delegates must vote for the candidate on the first ballot at the national convention, even if that candidate has dropped out before then. In some cases, however, caucus rules do not bind the delegates to vote for anyone according to the initial caucus results. Those are “unbound delegates.” Make no mistake, the unbound delegate chosen to represent the candidate and state at the national convention will have loyalty toward the candidate for which they were chosen to vote, but if that candidate drops out, they are free to vote for someone else. Who would that other candidate be? We don’t know. (It will almost certainly be the presumptive nominee… if we have one!) Some media outlets, in their standings, will still give these delegates to the dropped out candidate. Other won’t assign these delegates to anyone. At first it’ll be a minor discrepancy between their delegate projections, but the disparity will grow as viable candidates who earned lots of delegates eventually drop out.

The most glaring problems in our quest to create some standings are the annoying unpledged delegates. Let’s split this into parties:

  • Republicans: In total, there will be 2,472 delegates at the Republican National Convention, and they’ll represent the 56 states and territories of the United States. To earn the nomination, a candidate needs to secure a simple majority, meaning 1,237 of them. Of the 2,472, only 2,304 must be awarded through the primaries and caucuses themselves. (For a list of all the primaries, how many delegates each state gets at the national convention, and why they get that many, click here. To stay sane, don’t click anything.) The rest — 168 — are “unpledged delegates,” or what the GOP calls “party leaders.” Every state and territory has three, listed here. Multiply that by the 56 states and territories and we get the 168 party leaders. However (sorry), some state parties tie those three unpledged delegates to the actual primary results, giving those states three more pledged delegates than the number assigned by the Republican National Committee.
  • The Democrats have — wait for it — the far less democratic process. There will be an estimated 4,763 delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, of which a simple majority (2,882) is needed to become the nominee. (For a list of all the primaries, how many delegates each state gets at the national convention, and why they get that many, click here.) Of the 4,763 delegates, a substantial number — 712, or 15 percent — are unpledged delegates, better known as the infamous “superdelegates” that some suspected might choose the Democratic nominee during the Clinton-Obama Cage Match of 2008. Superdelegates include the 442 members of the Democratic National Committee; all the Democratic governors, U.S. Senate and House members; and “distinguished party leaders,” such as living former presidents, Congressional leaders, and Chairs of the National Committee. I think FDR might also have a vote.

In both of the above cases, the unpledged delegates can vote for whomever they want. They are not at all beholden to the candidate their state might overwhelmingly want. For a hypothetical example, if 100 percent of Georgia’s Democratic voters case their ballot for Bernie Sanders, Jimmy Carter can still vote for Hillary Clinton and give her a delegate from Georgia. Is this controversial?  Oh you bet it is!

But enough about those “Democrats.” We’ll get to their standings next time. What can we make of the not-as-indeterminable-yet Republican Primary standings? Here are a few attempts:

CNN:

  1. Trump 17
  2. Cruz 11
  3. Rubio 10
  4. Kasich 5
  5. Bush 4
  6. Carson 3
  7. Fiorina, Huckabee, Paul (1 each)

Fox News:

  1. Trump 17
  2. Cruz 11
  3. Rubio 10
  4. Kasich 5
  5. Bush 4
  6. Carson 3

Green Papers (my personal favorite):

  1. Trump 17
  2. Cruz 11
  3. Rubio 10
  4. Kasich 5
  5. Bush 4
  6. Carson 3
  7. Fiorina, Huckabee, Paul (1 each)

There are others out there, but here I’ve found a liberal source, a conservative source, and the least biased source I know. And guess what, even after only two states, we already have discrepancies between the three. Fox News and CNN had Trump at 17 and Rubio at 10, but the Green Papers had Trump at 18 and Rubio at 9 up until yesterday, when they revised. CNN and the Green Papers have given three of the withdrawn candidates a delegate, but Fox News has not. We’re fortunate that at this stage none of these sources have counted any unpledged delegates yet. That will eventually change, and we’ll get competing estimates. Over time, these inconsistencies will increase as the deviations in projections and what to do with the delegates of those who drop out become widen.

Next time, I’ll take our first look at the Democratic Primary standings.

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