The Myth of Winner-Take-All
FHQ spent considerable time during the back half of 2011 and into primary season in 2012 arguing/demonstrating that the then-new proportionality requirement the Republican National Committee had added to its delegate selection rules just would not and did not have the type of effect many anticipated. Most state Republican parties did not fundamentally alter the way in which they were allocating delegates to the national convention. Instead those state parties in most cases tweaked their earlier/traditional plans just enough to fit the new rules. The effects were minimal.
The 2016 presidential nomination cycle offers another national party change to the parameters of the proportionality requirement. FHQ detailed those changes in part one of this series and then examined the possible implications of those changes in part two.
Yet, FHQ fears that focusing on the proportionality window primes readers to think only about the implications of the rules changes on contests within that period on the calendar. There will be primaries and caucuses after March 14, 2016, and there is already much discussion/speculation about how state Republican parties in states with contests after that date are adapting their rules. Too often, the assumption is that states after that point are or will be winner-take-all.
There is a reason FHQ referred to the phase starting on March 15 as the post-proportionality window part of the calendar in part two. While there is a requirement that states' delegate selection/allocation plans fit the RNC definition of proportionality, there is no similar requirement for winner-take-all allocation after that point. States, as FHQ argued in 2011-12, are free to choose whichever delegate selection method they wish to institute if they conduct a primary or caucuses after that March 14. Again, this is the way the relationship worked between the national and state parties for the whole calendar before 2012. States were able to choose from an array of options, and the RNC was more than willing to let them. As one RNC official told FHQ in 2012, "Let them [the states] figure it out."
That did not produce a calendar full of winner-take-all primaries and caucuses, though. In fact, in 2008, the last cycle in which states had total freedom to set delegate selection rules of their choosing (without oversight and regulation from the RNC), there were only 11 truly winner-take-all contests (where even if a candidate won a plurality of the vote by just one vote, that candidate would receive all of that state's delegates).
Given the change for 2012 -- adding the proportionality requirement -- the assumption seems to have been, "Well, if you have the option to be winner-take-all, why not be winner-take-all?" Only states with contests after March 31 (in 2012) were not lining up to actually switch to or maintain a winner-take-all method of allocation. Outside of rules breakers Florida and Arizona -- both were winner-take-all prior to April 1 during the 2012 cycle -- there were only four truly winner-take-all primaries: Washington (DC), Delaware, New Jersey and Utah. That is four out of 22 states with contests after April 1. Three of those 22 states -- Connecticut, New York and Texas1 -- actually transitioned from winner-take-all or winner-take most plans in 2008 to more proportional methods in 2012.