Election 2012
6:30 pm
Tue February 28, 2012

Picking a winner in Michigan's primary: not as simple as you might think

In a race that's as close and contentious as Michigan's Republican primary has shaped up to be, one would hope that after the dust settles at the end of election day, a winner will have emerged and we can all start speculating about the next group of states set to vote on Super Tuesday (even if Michigan has secretly been enjoying all the extra media attention).

But as MPRN's Rick Pluta told Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark earlier today, it's not quite that simple.

According to Pluta, "winning"  in Michigan really depends on whether you're talking about taking the popular vote  or the delegate count.

With the way the State's primary is set up, the two don't necessarily have to be won by the same candidate.

Pluta explains that Michigan's 30 delegates will be apportioned as follows:

  • 2 delegates will be awarded for the candidate who wins the popular vote
  • 2 delegates for each of the 14 congressional districts* in Michigan, 28 delegates  in total (*Note: Michigan currently has 15 congressional districts but the state is losing a district this year because of the state's population decline in the 2010 Census).

So say, for example, that Mitt Romney, who has focused a lot on the relatively populous southeast part of the state, wins the popular vote.

He'll pick up 2 delegates for the popular vote and delegates for the districts he won.

But Rick Santorum, who has been courting conservatives outside of southeast Michigan, could pick up more delegates by winning in more districts.

It could mirror the 2000 election results where one candidate wins the popular vote, but the other picks up more delegates.

This is just one possibility - one exciting possibility, especially for political junkies.

According to Pluta, a lot of permutations are conceivable  including a full on tie with delegates evenly split. (For you hard-core political junkies, Nate Silver at the New York Times has a detailed breakdown of likely outcomes broken down by district)

With all this possible ambiguity, how is a winner decided? Are delegates or total votes more important?

Depending on who takes what, the candidates will no doubt try to spin the results in their favor, but Pluta says that at this point, just a week before Super Tuesday when roughly a third of all delegates are set to be awarded in a ten-state contest, perceived momentum from the popular vote could likely trump the relatively small number of delegates available in Michigan.

That is, of course, unless things drag on all the way to a brokered convention in which case every delegate could be crucial.

Either way, after today Michigan can sit back and watch the horse race continue.

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom