2016 Republican Primaries: How Delegates Will be Awarded

GOP Hopes to Shorten the Intraparty Battle for Its Presidential Nomination

Primary Voting
Rick Friedman / Corbis via Getty Images

The 2016 Republican primaries will take place under new GOP rules designed to shorten the length of time it takes a candidate to win the presidential nomination. The 2016 Republican primary rules are an attempt by the party to avoid another drawn-out battle like the one in 2012 between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

The 2012 Republican primaries began in Iowa on Jan. 3 and continued for nearly six months, until Utah held the last of the primaries in the nation on June 26.

Party rules put in place before the 2012 presidential election lengthened the amount of time it took the eventual nominee to secure the 1,144 delegates necessary for the nomination.

The rules passed by the Republican Party in early 2014 will allow the GOP to hold its nominating convention earlier in the summer of 2016. It typically met in August or early September, but is expected to convene in June.

How the 2016 Republican Primaries Will Work

The first states to hold primaries, as usual, will be Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Voters in those states will go to the polls in February under the party rules passed in 2014. States that attempt to jump ahead of those four states will be punished with the loss of delegates.

States that hold their primaries between March 1 and March 14, 2016, will award their delegates on a proportional basis, meaning that no one candidate could likely win the nomination before late-voting states get to hold their primaries.


States voting on March 15, 2016, or later canaward their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, meaning candidates will likely pay more attention to them. 

The party believes that the new system of awarding delegates will prevent the front-loading of primaries early in the season, and offers states an incentive to hold theirs in the spring and summer instead of trying to leapfrog each other for influence and attention.

Why Long Primary Seasons Are a Problem

Drawn-out primary battles force the eventual nominee to spend too much of his time and money defending himself from attacks by members of his own party, thereby weakening the campaign before the fall election and exposing its flaws to the opposition.

Related: Do the Republicans Hold Too Many Presidential Debates?

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the media the 2014 rule change will benefit the eventual presidential nominee in 2016.

"We have been saying for months that we were no longer going to sit around and allow ourselves to slice and dice for six months, participate in a circus of debates, that we were going to take hold once again of our responsibility at the Republican National Committee because we are the custodians of the nomination process," Priebus said.

The rule changes came about as part of a reform effort launched after Romney lost by a wide margin to Democrat Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Obama won a second term in the White House.