Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in commanding positions heading into Super Tuesday. Buoyed by victories in recent weeks both front-runners expect to dominate the Southern heavy voting.
But straight up victories will not tell the story of who won the night. The reason why is simple: delegates. Specifically, the way the state and national parties allocate them. Due to RNC and DNC rules, no state is allowed to allocate all its delegates to the winner until after March 8th. In an effort to get around this rule though many Super Tuesday states have minimum threshold support a candidate must maintain to receive delegates.
These rules have the potential to make the ultimate winner of Super Tuesday, well, less of a winner. Tomorrow, voting states will allocate their delegates proportionally with a threshold of either 15 percent (Arkansas, Oklahoma) or 20 percent (Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont) of the vote. In other words, the state divides up its delegates proportionally between the candidates who surpass the threshold.
For some candidates these rules are incredibly beneficial (Rubio and Cruz). Yet, for others, Kasich and Carson, the rules are disastrous because neither is polling strongly outside of one or two states. For Trump, the rules stink because it means his wins will not allocate him all the delegates of the states.
However, this is not a given. Cruz and Rubio have the potential to see their lanes of support split with Kasich and Carson in the mix. This means that in some states they could fall under the needed thresholds for delegates. The primary beneficiary of this would be Trump but it also is true that Cruz or Rubio could benefit (assuming one falls under the threshold).
Winning/losing and pure percentages are not the only things that matter. So will margins. For example, if Cruz is racking up big margins in TX it likely means he is winning congressional districts and tallying up more delegates. By the same token, smaller Trump victories tomorrow mean he is likely not winning all the districts he could have.
Put another way, according to RNC rules, each congressional district gets three delegates to the national convention. And in many states (including Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, among those voting Tuesday) those delegates are allocated based on the results in each district. If a candidate wins a state by a large margin, he’s more likely to rack up delegates in more of that state’s congressional districts. We saw this in South Carolina – Trump beat Rubio 32.5 percent-22.5 percent, but that was enough to carry every congressional district and net him all 50 of the delegates.
Most notably, in the two biggest delegate rich prizes tomorrow, TX and GA, a majority of delegates are allocated by CD. In TX it’s 108 (36*3) while in Georgia it is 42 (14*3) out of 155 and 76 total delegates.
For some candidates some states have more meaning than others. Cruz desperately needs to win TX because be badly trails Trump in many states and Rubio is edging him out in others. In addition, Cruz could probably never recover losing his home state.
Trump, due to his commanding lead in delegate totals and polls to date, can easily stand to lose Texas and still rack up the most delegates for the day. Even a massive Cruz win in TX would likely not blunt Trump’s margins elsewhere.
For Rubio, the strategy is simple to survive until Florida. If he can finished second in many states (VA, AR, OK, GA, MN and AL) are probably his best bets he can plausibly come out of Super Tuesday still in the game and the candidate of the establishment. If you are Carson or Kasich, it’s a wing and a prayer night.