Should the GOP Nominate By Plurality?

To me, the nomination math is simple. As soon as one of the candidates receives the votes of a majority of the delegates (i.e., 1,237), either on the first ballot or on a subsequent ballot, he or she is the nominee. Until someone gets a majority of the ballots, the delegates keep voting. Historically, it has not been unheard of for 30 or 40 ballots to take place in political conventions before someone finally emerges with a majority. The person who ultimately gets the nomination may be the one who entered the convention as the front-runner; or he may be someone who started out with fewer votes; or he may be someone who was not even a candidate before the convention began. That is all up to the delegates.

Therefore, I am surprised to see polling to the effect that 51% of Republicans think that whoever enters the convention with the most votes should be nominated, even if he lacks a majority:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 51% of Likely Republican Voters believe that if a political party convenes its national convention and no presidential candidate has enough delegates to be the nominee, the party should let the candidate with the highest number of delegates be the nominee.

Thirty-four percent (34%) say the delegates at the convention should choose the nominee by voting for whomever they want. Only four percent (4%) think party leaders should pick the nominee. Six percent (6%) prefer some other unspecified procedure, while five percent (5%) are undecided.

The idea that a plurality is effectively equal to a majority passes neither the test of logic nor the test of history. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln did not have the largest number of votes on the first ballot. On the first ballot the favorite and front-runner, William Seward, got 173.5 votes, while Lincoln was a distant second with 102. Lincoln still trailed Seward on the second ballot, but narrowly, and he took the lead for the first time on the third. Does a slim majority of today’s Republican voters believe that the 1860 convention nominated the wrong man? That Seward should have been the candidate, since he entered the convention with the most votes? Presumably not.