February 23, 2016

THE MCEVOY MINUTE | The Rules of the Game

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With a week to go until Super Tuesday, candidates from both parties are hoping to establish themselves as the solid frontrunners in the presidential primary campaign. Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have won the most primaries and caucuses to date, and are leading in the number of delegates that will consequently vote for them at each party’s National Convention this summer. The Republican candidate needs 1,237 out of 2,472 delegate votes in order to win the nomination, while the Democrat candidate will need 2,382 out of 4,762 delegate votes. As of right now, Trump is securely leading his party with 67 delegates, significantly more than Ted Cruz (11), Marco Rubio (10), John Kasich (5) or Ben Carson (3). On the Democratic side, Clinton has 51 pledged delegates to her name, while Bernie Sanders trails close behind with 36 pledged delegates. However, an expected 712 other ‘superdelegates’ will vote at the Democratic National Convention, unassigned to states and able to vote for whichever candidate they choose; an overwhelming number of these superdelegates have announced they will vote for Clinton, bringing her delegate count to 502. While making up a small percentage of all the delegates (only 14.9 percent of the 4,763 votes cast), these superdelegates may play a larger role in determining the presidential candidates than the general population tends to assume.

There are other seemingly inconsequential rules that govern how delegates are allocated to primary candidates that may have a significant impact on who will walk away with the nomination this July. The Republican Party recently reformed their election rules after a drawn-out 2012 primary season, so this year, any primary held after March 14th is allowed to utilize ‘winner take all’ system. This schema can apply to either all the state’s delegates (both, the 3 assigned to each district, the 10 assigned to each state, and any bonus delegates awarded by the Republican Party), or to only the 10 statewide delegates. A state that awards all their delegates to the candidate that wins the majority of the votes (the definition of a ‘winner take all’ system) can have a serious impact on who leads the race. Take, for example, Florida: with 99 delegates and a ‘winner take all system’, a primary tomorrow in Florida would change the game completely – either solidifying a solid lead for Trump or propelling a new candidate into the lead. While there are only a few true winner take all primaries, many more states allocate their delegates on a proportional basis (of the total vote count), but with a catch: most states maintain a threshold (or percentage of the total votes) that a candidate needs to pass in order to receive any of the delegates. So, if the recent South Carolina primary utilized a proportional system with a threshold of 20% (the maximum allowed by the Republican Party), only Trump (who garnered 32.5% of the state’s vote), Rubio (22.5%) and Cruz (22.3%) would have been able to win delegates – meaning it is not a true proportional distribution. Once states start holding primaries with either of these sets of rules, the top candidates will quickly run away with the lead and force other candidates out of the race (and, therefore, increasing their chances of winning other delegates in the future primaries).

There are, of course, other factors that will influence the outcome of who wins the primary election beyond simple vote count – such as the order in which states hold their elections and the omnipresent effect of the media. The discussed institutional rules, however, are rather complicated and infrequently attended to by the public –  and therefore can seem rather insignificant. But, as with the general election’s electoral college system, every once in a while there is a primary election in which the rules of the game have as much of an impact on the final outcome as the actual vote count of the people. I think we might be heading into one of those primary election seasons.

Emily McEvoy is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in Government and minoring in Communications. When not writing her column for The Daily Sun or enthusiastically catching up on the newest political scandal, she can be found outside running or playing soccer. The McEvoy Minute appears on alternate Tuesdays this semester. You can reach Emily at emcevoy@cornellsun.com.

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