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Delegate Allocation Rules in 2012 GOP Nomination Race:The Spectrum from Proportional Representation to Winner Take All

See State-by-State Results of
the GOP 2012 Primary Race

The contest for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 begins with a trickle of contests and then heats up with a growing number of primaries and caucuses. As the contest unfolds, the complex array of different state rules for allocating delegates becomes more and more important. The contest isn't just about media spin and "momentum": it's about winning delegates.

Below each state is grouped according to its type of system of delegate allocation, summarizing our information in the USA map at the bottom of the page. States are grouped based on whether they allocate delegates on the basis of: full proportional representation, usually with a threshold; a mix of winner-take-all and proportional representation; modified winner-take-all; winner-take-all according to results statewide and in congressional districts; winner-take-all accordingly only to the statewide result; or, in other ways.

The use of proportional representation in presidential contests has been established by the Democratic Party on a national level - any candidate earning more than 15% of the vote should receive a proportional share of delegates in a nomination contest, although it can vary based on results in congressional districts.

The decision about whether to use proportional is an important one, with factors including both how it changes the nomination contest and how reflective the convention is of different viewpoints within the party. It can change outcomes. For example, had the Democratic Party not used proportional representation during the 2008 primaries and had the candidates had run the same campaign (an unlikely assumption, of course, as rules greatly affect campaign behavior), Hillary Clinton would have won more delegates than Barack Obama due to her victories in most of the large population states.

In recent decades, more and more Republican states began moving to winner-take-all rules to help "favorite son" candidates or to draw the attention of candidates wanting to boost their delegate totals. This rule contributed to quick victories for the candidate who earned momentum in early nomination contests, particularly in 2008. In response, the Republican Party in 2010 acted to require states holding contests early in the year to use some form of proportional representation when allocating convention delegates.

According to Rules of the Republican Party Rule 15(b)(2), all primaries taking place before April 1st must use proportional representation in their election of delegates to the Republican National Convention except for New Hampshire (which uses proportional anyway) and South Carolina (which uses a mixed system that could effectively make the state winner-take-all). Within this rule, the particulars of how to allocate delegates are still largely left up to the states.


For those states that use proportional allocation of delegates, the term "proportional" is not clearly defined. As a result, proportional representation can run the gamut of proportionality, from strictly proportional to modified winner-take-all systems such as allowing a candidate to win all delegates is securing an absolute majority of the popular vote.


Furthermore some states and territories are ignoring the new rule about not using winner-take-all - and not necessarily facing a penalty. Because Florida and Arizona had already lost half their delegates due to moving their contests earlier than allowed under party rules, the Republican National Committee apparently decided not to penalize them further for violating the prohibition against winner-take-all contests before April 1. However, they have not penalized Puerto Rico for having its winner-take-all primary in March.


Following is a review of state/territory rules, as provided by the Republican National Committee in a release this December 2011. (Download rules in PDF)


Winner-Take-All Statewide:

Seven states and territories allocate delegates based on a winner-take-all rule according to the statewide vote. This means that the statewide winner, no matter by what margin and with what percentage of the vote, will secure all the bound delegates from that state.

  • States and Territories using winner-take-all statewide: Arizona, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Utah


Winner-Take-All Statewide and Congressional District: 

Some states allocate delegates both by winner-take-all statewide and winner-take-all by congressional district, meaning some delegates are allocated to the candidate with the most votes statewide and the rest according to the winner of each congressional district. This means that the statewide winner, no matter by what margin and what percentage of the vote, will secure all the delegates allocated statewide. That statewide winner may also win all state delegates by winning each congressional district as well, but other candidates will earn delegates if winning the vote in a district.

  • States and territories using winner-take-all statewide and by congressional district: California, Indiana, Maryland, South Carolina, Wisconsin


Proportional Representation

Some states allocate delegates proportionally: 50% of the vote earns half the delegates, 25% earns a quarter of delegates and 10% earns a tenth of delegates. Of the states relying on proportional allocation of delegates, fifteen use a proportional representation system for allocation of delegates, most with a minimum threshold that a candidate must receive in order to earn a proportionate share of the delegation.

  • States using proportional representation: Alaska, Hawaii, Kentucky (with a threshold of 15%), Louisiana (with a threshold of 25%), Massachusetts (with a threshold of 15%), Mississippi (with a threshold of 15%), North Carolina, New Hampshire (with a threshold of 10%), New Mexico (with a threshold of 15%), Nevada (based on primary, not caucus), Oregon, Rhode Island (with a threshold of 15%), South Dakota (with a threshold of 20%) and Texas (with a threshold of 20%)


Mixed System of Proportional Representation and Winner-Take-All

Seven states use a mixed system of both proportional representation and winner-take-all representation. In these states, the allocation varies as a combination of systems. For example, in Kansas and in Michigan, the statewide delegates are allocated proportionally based on a threshold, but the congressional district delegates are allocated on a winner-take-all basis.

As another example, however, in Tennessee, the statewide delegates are allocated proportionally, with a 20% threshold, but winner-take-all if the candidate receives 66% of the statewide vote. The congressional district delegates are allocated in a more complicated manner: if a candidate achieves over 66% of vote, the delegates are allocated on a winner-take-all basis for that candidate; for candidates that achieve 20-66% of the vote, the top vote getter receives two delegates, and the second place one delegate, unless second place has less than 20%, then the top vote getter receives all delegates by winner-take-all allocation; if the candidates achieve less than 20% of the vote, the top three candidates receive one delegate each. 

  • States using a mixed system: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee


Modified Winner-Take-All

Other states use a system that is best described as modified winner-take-all. This system operates as a winner-take-all system if a candidate achieves a majority of the vote (i.e. over 50% of the vote). However, it is a modified winner-take-all system because the delegates are allocated proportionally if no candidate breaches the majority vote threshold. Stated another way, in a modified winner-take-all system, such as New York, the at large delegates are allocated proportionally based on a 20% threshold; however, they are allocated on a winner-take-all basis of a candidate achieves 50% of the vote in that state. 

  • States using modified winner-take-all allocation: Alabama, Connecticut, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia, Vermont


Unbound Delegates or Other

Other states do not fit into these categories. These states may use non-binding primaries or other forms of contests in which delegate allocation is not specified. In these states, the delegates are not allocated based on the voting that takes place in the primary or caucus held in that state. Rather, the delegates may be allocated based on votes at the state or territorial Republican convention. Delegates may be elected in some primaries or some conventions without ever being bound.

  • States and territories using other rules: American Samoa,Colorado, Guan,Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Pennsylvania, Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming


Download the Excel spreadsheet with more detailed information by state, and see a summary in the USA map below.