Monday 1 Feb, 2016

Caucus versus Primary: What’s the Difference?

With a very important election coming up in November, there is a lot of political lingo being tossed around about delegates, polls and debates. While presidential nominees will be decided over the next several months, there are two terms in particular you need to know right now: caucus and primary.

It might seem like these two terms are used interchangeably in the media, but they are actually two very different processes. Both are used as ways to choose state delegates to represent Presidential candidates at the National Conventions, but they are both executed in different ways. Which states use which method? What’s the difference? Read on to find out.DCSunsetFlags_Large

Only 13 U.S. states and 2 territories use the caucus system to determine who their delegates will support. In some states, like Iowa, caucuses are big events that draw a lot of media attention. People convene in a meeting hall based on where they live and their chosen political party. Caucuses rely on a candidate having a strong and organized base of supporters so that attendees can argue in favor of their preferred candidate. Because supporters are allowed to speak on behalf of the candidates it is strategically organized so that each candidate has a speaker at every site – schools, churches, homes and libraries. Once the supporters have spoken, the vote is taken. In Iowa, this is a long process because the winners of each precinct then send delegates to county conventions, and the county then sends delegates to the state convention. The state caucus then votes on who will be sent to the national convention to represent their vote and choice of candidate.

Most states vote for delegates to represent them at the national conventions using a primary election. This process is shorter and more private than a caucus. Voters have a time frame to go to their polling location, sign in, receive their ballot, and cast their vote. Little communication occurs at the polling location, as voters mainly rely on information they’ve already gathered. After all votes have been cast, the numbers are tallied and reported.

Then what?
Based on the results, a certain number of delegates are awarded the right to represent each candidate at their party’s National Convention. The Democratic and Republican parties each have different ways of determining how these rights are awarded. Democrats award delegates proportionally to the vote: if a candidate receives 50% of all caucus and primary votes in the state, 50% of the delegates from that state will represent them. The Republican Party gives states the choice of the proportional method or a winner-take-all method, where the candidate who receives the most votes receives all the delegates.

Now that you are an informed citizen, go forth and participate! See how you can vote in your state’s nomination events.

Learn how you can travel to the 2017 Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. and live history with your students!