The Republican Party has traditionally allowed states to allocate delegates in a variety of ways. Some states used a proportional method, others used winner-take-all, still others used hybrids that fell between those two poles. In 2008, the nearly 40 Republican primary states were split about evenly among the three methods.
The 2012 campaign is essentially no different. The rules do not mandate strict proportionality but allow a mix of systems. For example, states can proportionally allocate their at-large delegates while allocating their congressional district delegates on a winner-take-all basis, according to the vote within each district. States can also use a conditional winner- take-all rule: If a candidate receives the majority of the vote statewide, then that candidate is awarded all of a state’s delegates or all of the at-large delegates.
As a result, differences between the 2008 and 2012 rules are not drastic. ...But the rules do count in one important way:
To gauge the effect of the 2012 rules, we calculated what the 2012 delegate count would be so far using the 2008 delegate rules. Any such simulation rests on the tenuous assumption that all other things about the process are equal -- an obvious drawback. Still, the results are instructive.
Using the 2008 rules, we found, would have produced a slightly slower primary process. What’s more, Romney above all should be grateful for the change. Far from elevating the current front-runner, the 2008 rules would have reduced his current delegate count by 56. Under the old rules, Newt Gingrich would have earned 5 fewer delegates and Ron Paul 8 fewer. Rick Santorum would have come out with 15 more delegates.
If anything is extending the Republican nomination process, it’s the new, longer primary calendar. In 2008, more than half of the delegates had been awarded by the first week in February. In 2012, the halfway point won’t arrive until this weekend’s Louisiana primary.