A Crash Course on Caucuses

The caucus is an important part of the American election process but is often misunderstood. Stock Photo

If someone asked you right now how a caucus works, would you know the answer?

The caucuses are a longstanding tradition in the election process and play into the decision of

the Democrat and Republican presidential nominees. Not every state has one, but a caucus in a

critical state can make or break a candidate’s chance at the Oval Office. Caucus results are

often an indicator of the strength behind a presidential candidate.

So, what is a caucus? It’s a convention for a precinct or district for voters of their registered

party to meet, usually in a public space like a gymnasium or church. Sometimes the process

can be as simple as it is for Iowa Republicans, with a secret ballot being performed to select

their delegates.

Other times, it’s not so simple.

Instead of casting a vote, participants are asked to physically separate into groups that

represent supporters of their chosen delegates who will go on to vote for their candidate. This is

often a lengthy process, with undecided voters being accosted by political activists or

representatives, and people shifting between groups. By making the process public, a caucus

can serve as a forum, with people still campaigning and discussing the policies of each

candidate in an effort to win over voters.

Voters are free to shift from group to group until a final count is performed, determining the size

of each group. Most states will use these groups to determine the percentage of delegates

awarded to each candidate, and websites such as 270towin.com can show how many delegates

are up for grabs. It’s important to remember in the primary what you are truly voting for are

delegates who have committed their vote to a particular presidential candidate. These are often

political activists and leaders selected internally by the party. In the Democratic party, there is

the addition of superdelegates, who are unpledged and account for about 16% of the total

delegate count.

For the 2020 election, only three states will be employing caucuses for the presidential primary:

Iowa, Nevada and Wyoming. American territories such as Guam and the Virgin Islands also

perform caucuses, but their participation ends after the presidential election.

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