After last night’s Republican debate in Wisconsin, we thought it would be useful to begin analyzing how the GOP campaigns are thinking analytically about their pathways to the nomination.
Not only is Wisconsin a state that affords the GOP a chance at winning a midwestern state in ’16, it could also represent a key decision maker in the delegate battle, seeing that it is scheduled for April 5th, 2016.
As the Chief Data Officer for Governor Scott Walker’s presidential campaign, in addition to providing the data and descriptive and predictive analytics campaign-wide, it was our team’s job to compile the various strategic delegate pathways for our campaign. This analysis gives some insights into how the various Republican campaigns might be thinking about the calendar and why the 2016 calendar represents a pathway unlike any we’ve ever seen, and why smart, data-driven decisions are a must.
Divide the calendar into three sections
Unlike contests in cycles past, 2016 is completely unique in how delegates are awarded, with mandatory proportionality rules enforced by the RNC for many of the states, especially those before March 15. This isn’t new, but the extent of the proportionality is unprecedented. In total, 2,470 delegates will be awarded in total, meaning a candidate needs 1,236 to secure the nomination.
In order to analyze the analytical approach to the delegate battle, we‘ll divide the calendar into three sections.
A side note, Frontloading HQ (or @FHQ) is a great resource to dig into the specific rules and is a source we follow closely for rules and math.
Four Early States
The first four states (IA, NH, SC, NV) represent a total of only 133 delegates, however, these are where tickets get punched for March. Even the candidate who “wins” each of these states will not walk away with the full boat of delegates, because of proportionality rules.
What these four will decide is: who makes it to March. Momentum, fundraising and messaging will be greatly affected by the results in these states, without a doubt. However, we won’t spend a ton of time here for this piece, even though their analytical approach is very important and will be touched on later.
March 1 through March 12
There are 22 contests between March 1 and March 12, representing 122 Congressional districts in 15 primaries, plus 7 caucuses. 1,112 delegates, or 45% of the total, are awarded before March 15 .
A key point: each Congressional district in primary states represents 3 delegates that can be awarded (plus the statewide delegates), but they are allocated in slightly different ways depending on the state. Some states have rules for awarding 3 delegates for any candidate over 50% in a CD, or 2 for the top vote getter, 1 for second place, while others award proportionally by vote totals — there are even fractional delegates and rules for handling those.
The rules and math are setup in such a way that realistically, no one candidate will swing delegate momentum tremendously during these contests — it will be a slow, steady battle for delegate victories. As many from 2012 affectionately refer to it:
“The Long Slog”
A key factor during this process is how campaigns declare victory on key dates, like the night of March 1. Of the 366 Congressional delegates awarded during this period, it’s possible that no one candidate garners a majority. That doesn’t even include the statewide delegates, which are an entirely different set of totals. The press narrative could center around delegates won, votes won, DMAs won, dollars raised or any number of numerous talking points about why their candidate emerged victorious.
Framing a press narrative using data and analytics is going to be a key strategic advantage for whoever does it right.
March 15 through June, 2016
March 15 represents the beginning of “winner-take-all” states, like Florida and others. This is when candidates can begin truly building momentum behind their delegate counts. However, getting to this point, and maintaining a healthy bank account in the process, is a campaign’s biggest challenge. There is a very delicate balance between 1) spending all of their funds from March 1 through 12th with 2) holding a reserve for the later states in March and beyond.
This is where data and analytics really come into play.
Navigating the calendar, momentum and money — the Draft Kings approach
Any campaign that wants to make it to April, or even mid-March, must be smart about spending their campaign treasure. There are a multitude of media markets and hundreds (even thousands) of possible pathways to delegate momentum, but those who spend the least and win the most will be in the best position.
It is truly a fight in 122 Congressional district races that could determine who is the Republican nominee.
In fantasy football, specifically new money sites like Draft Kings and Fan Duel, players are drafted based on a monetary cost and a predicted point total for that week. In essence, as a team manager, one needs to maximize points while minimizing cost, while balancing the purchase of high-cost superstar players. Aaron Rodgers may cost $9,600 and score 18 points, but Landry Jones may only cost you $5,000 and end up with a similar score, at a much lower cost.
The same concept applies in this delegate battle — maximize delegates at a minimum cost, without burning a ton of cash in one place.
Data scientists like us will, and have been, crunching the numbers on possible pathways, risks and opportunities for their candidates, to maximize opportunity and minimize cost. Campaign tactics like paid media, candidate visits, digital targeting, mail, phones and grassroots all need to considered independently to ensure that the intersection of delegate opportunity and cost are balanced.
In statistics, there are techniques used to converge on these sorts of decisions in a mathematical way. Techniques like genetic algorithms or Monte Carlo simulations, with inputs such as “cost per point” for media, population density, voter scoring and other measures could help converge on possible strategies for campaigns to garner the most delegates for least amount of money. Many campaigns are already running these algorithms to drive their strategies.
Like Draft Kings, the managers who can maximize the number of points, or delegates, for the lowest price will be the one reaping the highest profits; in this case, their candidate leading in delegate counts.
This will be one of the most unique Republican presidential primaries to date, not just because of the debates, press coverage and candidate slate. Campaign strategies must be determined in a more strategic way than ever before.
The outcome of the analytical math behind the scenes, and the campaign who buys most into it, will have a huge impact on which candidate emerges standing on March 13th, and who has the resources to compete and win.