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Explaining the Super Tuesday primaries: The Republicans

February 25, 2016 by NCC Staff


The National Constitution Center breaks down the numbers for the March 1 Super Tuesday primary for the Republican Party, which uses different delegate selection rules than the Democrats use.foxdebateBoth parties will have primary, caucus and presidential preference polls on the same day on March 1. For the Democrats, about 22 percent of all convention delegates are selected for the national convention on Super Tuesday, with 11 states, American Samoa and overseas delegates in play.  All votes are counted proportionately.  (See related article on the Democratic primaries.)

The Republican Party uses different rules. There are 12 states in play on Super Tuesday, representing about 25 percent of all delegates sent to the GOP convention. The GOP uses a mixed set of rules to select delegates in a “winner-take-most,” and in a proportional fashion. So depending on how well a leading candidate performs within a state, the leading GOP candidate can walk away with most of its delegates, or practically the same count as a third-place finisher.

The “winner-take-most” states account for 438 delegates, or 70 percent, of the delegates picked on Super Tuesday. Of the 12 Super Tuesday GOP states, eight states follow “winner take most” rules that require the leading candidate to have more than 50 percent of the vote among congressional districts and at-large groups to get most of the delegates. Without a majority winner, the delegates are divided among candidates who receive at least 15 percent or 20 percent of votes.

And that model doesn’t favor a candidate greatly who is the voting leader, with less than 50 percent of the vote within a state.

For example, Texas has 155 GOP delegates in play on Super Tuesday. Of these, 108 delegates come from 36 congressional districts. A candidate needs at least 50 percent of the vote within a district to take its three delegates, or the delegates are divided among candidates who get at least 20 percent of the vote. Texas also has 47 at-large delegates. If someone gets a majority of the statewide vote, they get all 47 at-large delegates; if not, the delegates are divided among the candidates who hit the 20 percent threshold.

Using this Texas example and current polling data that shows Ted Cruz at 30 percent, Donald Trump at 25 percent and Marco Rubio at 12 percent in the state, Cruz and Trump would capture most of the delegates in Texas (which is also Cruz’s home state). But in Georgia, the second-biggest state in the GOP Super Tuesday sweepstakes, a recent poll shows Trump at 27 percent, and Rubio and Cruz at 18 percent. Like Texas, Georgia uses a 50-20 percent rule, making it possible that the three candidates would divide up the delegates relatively equally.

With five candidates still in the Republican primary hunt, and at least three expected to do well on Super Tuesday, the prospects exist for a divided delegate count, with unpredictable results. But in 2012, Mitt Romney was able to leverage his Super Tuesday popular vote showing of 38 percent into controlling a majority of the delegates selected on Super Tuesday.

After March 14, GOP primaries are allowed to use “winner-take-all” rules to settle their elections. In all, 15 states use winner-take-all rules, including Florida, Ohio and Illinois on March 15, and the winner-take-all states account for 36 percent of the national convention delegates. It is the winner-take-most states that account for about 37 percent of the national delegates, with proportional states and caucuses making up the remaining 27 percent.

Those divisions have led to increasing talk of a close primary election process for the Republicans. But if a GOP front runner such as Trump dominates on March 15 and takes Ohio and Florida, then the primary process would favor that front runner.

A Look At GOP Super Tuesday States

StateDelegatesWho Can VoteType
Alabama 50AnyoneWinner Take Most - 50/20
Alaska28GOP CaucusProportional - 13 Percent
Arkansas 40AnyoneWinner Take Most - 50/15
Georgia 76GOP/Indep.Winner Take Most - 50/20
Massachusetts42GOP/Indep.Proportional - 5 Percent
Minnesota38AnyoneProportional - 10 Percent
Oklahoma43GOPWinner Take Most - 50/15
Tennessee58AnyoneWinner Take Most - 66/20
Texas155AnyoneWinner Take Most - 50/20
Vermont16AnyoneWinner Take Most -50/20
Virginia49AnyoneProportional - No Threshold
Wyoming29GOP CaucusCaucus

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