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
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
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.