What is a caucus?
I can only imagine that many Americans do not really know what a caucus is. Unless you live in a state where a caucus is held, you cannot truly understand how this works. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary states a caucus is “a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party or faction usually to select candidates or to decide on policy; also: a group of people united to promote an agreed-upon cause”.
The word was first used in 1760. Did you know the word was first recorded as being used by John Adams in his diary? The word is thought to come from the Algonquin word meaning “counsel”. When John Adams referred to them, he was discussing political meetings where men gathered to discuss important political topics. He wrote that men drank and smoked as they spoke about who should run for which office – such as fire warden, etc.
|Grant's carriage for his inauguration|
The one we are most familiar with occurs today – the Iowa caucus. In reality, more than 800 caucuses are happening across the state of Iowa today. Instead of people going into a booth to vote, the community gathers together to select the candidates for president. Think of the caucuses as town hall meetings. The people meet in gyms, church basements, and high schools. If you already know who you want to vote for you may not want to attend. But, if you are undecided, a caucus meeting may be just the place for you. Candidate representatives will try to convince you to vote for their candidate. Speeches are made and a lot of posturing. Once the representatives are chosen, they will then attend conventions where a nomination process occurs. In reality, tonight’s caucus is just step one in a long process that is not really over until June.
Why then do we place so much stock in the Iowa caucus? The Iowa caucus has always been a good indicator of which candidates might win the nomination for each political party at the national convention. It also can predict which ones might drop out due to lack of support.
So remember – the Iowa caucus is simply a chance to pick delegates who will head to the National Convention and then vote for the candidate of their choosing.
How is this different from a primary? A primary is performed by secret ballots. And if you are a Democrat, you can only vote for a Democratic candidate. If you are a Republican, you vote for a Republican candidate. If you are voting in a caucus, you can change your mind if you’re undecided. People are divided into groups (remember the church basements, gyms, and high schools?) Then the voters in each group are counted and the one with the most voters wins.
Which states have caucuses?
Iowa, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, Hawaii, Maine, Kansas, Maine, and Wyoming.
States with Primaries:
New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Maryland, Virginia, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon.
There are a few states which have both:
Louisiana, DC, Montana, and Idaho.
What do you know about caucuses or primaries?