If you were to open a random article on a politics website today, you would likely come across the word caucus.
However, without any background in politics, you might quickly become confused by the multiple contexts in which it is used.
What is the difference between the Iowa Caucuses and the Senate Republican Caucus, for example? And do they have anything to do with the Congressional Black Caucus or the Tea Party Caucus?
A caucus is an organization of a group of members within a larger voting body. These groups convene to make decisions for the party (or group).
The precise origin of the word is obscure, but its earliest known use referred to the Boston Caucus, or 'Caucas Clubb,' an influential political group in Boston, Massachusetts, in the years immediately before and after the American Revolution.
In the context of American politics, there are three separate ways in which this word is most frequently used: party caucuses within legislative bodies; interest caucuses, also within legislative bodies; and presidential nominating caucuses conducted at the state level.
Party Caucuses in the U.S. Congress and State Legislatures
When used in relation to the U.S.
Congress (including the House of Representatives and the Senate) and state legislatures, the word caucus can refer to the voting members of either of the two major political parties (the Democrats and the Republicans). If you were to hear 'Senate Republican Caucus,' for example, the speaker would be referring to the organization of senators affiliated with the Republican Party.
In the House of Representatives and the Senate, many important decisions are made by the majority caucus (that is, the caucus of the party with the most members in the legislative body) before they are voted upon by the full body, including leadership positions and committee chairmanships. In the House of Representatives, this includes the selection of the Speaker of the House, who wields tremendous power over the legislative agenda and is second in the line of succession to the presidency (after the vice president).
When members of the majority caucus agree about its policy positions and priorities, the body's legislative agenda can be set at the caucus level as well.
Though informal, this legislative function is perhaps the most important role of the party caucus: it is within this context that much of a legislature's logrolling will occur, where individual members are cajoled (and occasionally coerced) to support their party's legislative agenda through committee assignments and other incentives.
Other Caucuses in the U.S. Congress and State Legislatures
'Caucus' is also used to describe smaller formal groups within Congress that are organized according to a commonality, whether it's ideological, ethnic or interest group-based.
While this may appear confusing at first, it remains true to the basic idea introduced before: the Tea Party Caucus includes a subset of members who identify as members of the conservative Tea Party movement, while the Congressional Black Caucus includes a subset of members who are African-American.
These caucuses have no formal decision-making role, but they often function as voting blocs – groups who vote the same way on an agenda that has been agreed to within the caucus.
While these groups are sometimes restricted to a single party (the Tea Party Caucus, for example, only includes Republicans), there are also bipartisan caucuses.
The Congressional Steel Caucus, which advocates for the American steel industry, is an example of a bipartisan caucus, composed mostly of legislators from steel-producing regions.
What about those Iowa Caucuses we hear so much about every four years? While they serve a different function than legislative caucuses, once again the principle remains the same.
Instead of holding a primary election, where party members simply vote in a statewide election for their preferred candidate, in Iowa members of each party gather together in local meetings to debate and choose who they prefer to be their party's presidential candidate.
Caucus | Definition of Caucus by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of Caucus
- 1(in some US states) a meeting at which local members of a political party register their preference among candidates running for office or select delegates to attend a convention.‘Hawaii holds its nominating caucuses next Tuesday’
- ‘he stumbled through the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary’
2A conference of members of a legislative body who belong to a particular party or faction.
‘Mr Kerry attended the morning caucus in the Old Senate Chamber where his fellow Democrats selected the new minority leadership’
- ‘An opposition party's legislative caucus can coordinate its members in policy promotion.’
- ‘The US intends to have carefully-vetted regional caucuses select members of a provisional national assembly.’
- ‘If the primaries are killed in these states, the parties will use caucuses or state conventions to decide which candidate's delegates will go to the national convention.’
- ‘However, the party's legislative caucus countered the media reports during a press conference yesterday morning.’
- ‘How can a caucus of National Party members sign off on that and give that mandate to their leader?’
- ‘Under the US-backed plan, regional caucuses would select an interim assembly by the end of May and this body would pick a transitional government the following month.’
- ‘The meeting, attended by all five legislative caucuses, attempted to thrash out a preliminary consensus before today's meeting.’
- ‘The conveners were decided according to an agreement reached by leaders of legislative caucuses on Tuesday.’
- ‘The initial plan was for regional caucuses to select a transitional assembly by the end of May.’
- ‘The party's headquarters and its legislative caucus thus become ‘outsiders’ in the regime.’
- ‘Instead, the Nov.15 agreement provides for parliament members to be selected in 18 regional caucuses.’
- ‘The National Women's Studies Association, to take another example, has a complex and effective system of representation for group caucuses in its decision-making bodies.’
- ‘Whether chosen by primaries or by caucuses, U.S. House candidates are going to be chosen by state-level procedures.’
- ‘I mean I've got my own ideas and I'll be part of that but our caucus will decide that.’
- ‘If the caucus decide that's the way to go, or not to go, it's a majority decision.’
- ‘DPP caucus whip William Lai yesterday called on opposition parties to respond positively to the government's goodwill gesture.’
- ‘What are the ideas that a new Kerry administration would draw from the congressional Democratic caucus?’
- ‘But the KMT caucus yesterday said it was opposed to the use of radical methods in dealing with the issue.’
- ‘I know how the Democrats got my number – probably when I attended the democratic caucus last year.’
3A group within an organization or political party which meets independently to discuss strategy or tactics.
‘up to fifty caucuses met daily on conference grounds to discuss lobbying strategies’
- ‘he was forced out by a hard-left caucus which had taken over his constituency party’
- 1US Hold or form a legislative caucus.‘Republicans briefly caucused’
- ‘there is one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats’
Mid 18th century perhaps from Algonquian cau'-cau'-as'u ‘adviser’.
Iowa Caucus 2020: What is a caucus and how does it work?
The first votes of the 2020 presidential nomination will be cast Monday in Iowa as the state holds the Iowa caucuses to determine who the voters will back for president in November.
Voters will meet at caucus sites in Iowa, a state in which since 1976 only one presidential candidate – Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008 – finished outside the top three vote-getters and went on to win their party’s nomination.
A caucus is a gathering of members of a political party to discuss and vote on who they want to represent their party in the presidential election.
Caucusing begins at 7 p.m. local time (Central time).
There are 1,679 precincts in which people caucus in Iowa. People caucus at schools, churches, government buildings and other places.
This year, the Democrats are doing something different by holding “satellite” caucuses. Sixty will be in Iowa, 24 will be across the country and three will be international – in Paris, Glasgow, Scotland and Tbilisi, Georgia.
The satellite caucuses are held for registered Iowa Democrats who cannot get to a caucus to participate in the voting.
Who participates in caucuses?
To participate in the caucus, voters must be 18 by Election Day and registered to vote. Same-day registration is available in Iowa.
Is there a difference between the Democratic and Republican caucus?
Yes, the two parties caucus in a different way. Democrats will separate into groups in the caucus precincts, depending on the presidential candidate they support – in other words, they stand in a portion of the room designated for the candidate they wish to support. In a Republican caucus, participants simply cast a vote to indicate their support.
Then, the people in each group are counted. If the number of people in a certain group makes up at least 15% of the number of people in the room, then the group is considered “viable.”
If your candidate is viable, you fill out a Presidential Preference Card, sign it and turn it in. You cannot vote again.
If your candidate is not viable, meaning the candidate did not reach 15% in the first count, voters for that candidate may join a viable candidate group, or try to earn support for their candidate group by getting other supporters whose candidate did not get 15% to join with them to get their candidate viable.
Republican caucuses are different. Republicans cast a vote for the candidate they support for president. The votes are counted and then the number of delegates who will be elected by the precinct to attend the county convention is determined.
The delegates who will represent Iowa at the Republican National Convention are then divided proportionally according to the statewide vote for each Republican candidate.
What time will results be announced?
In the past, results from Iowa caucuses have come at various times. Sometimes voters have an answer by around 10 p.m. on caucus day. In other years, it’s taken days to determine a winner.
States choose presidential nominees in 2 very different ways. Here are the major differences between primaries and caucuses
Monday night's Iowa caucuses ended in disarray without any results reported, after an error with the the mobile app designed to submit the data to the Iowa Democratic Party.
The chaos marked a grim start to primary season. The Iowa caucuses are the first major nominating contest of the presidential primaries, and cap off roughly a year of campaigning for the 11 Democratic candidates still in the race.
- The delayed results have also prompted confusion over how Iowa conducts its caucuses, why the process is so complicated, and what the difference is between the Iowa caucuses and the more traditional primaries most states partake in.
- In the months leading up to the official start of the 2020 race, Democratic presidential candidates had to prepare for two different types of scenarios when courting voters.
- As opposed to primary elections, a handful of states and territories — such as Iowa and Nevada — use a unique system called caucuses.
Supporters of democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wait for results to come in at his caucus night watch party on February 03, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Primary elections are simple: voters show up to their polling place, whether it is a school, library, or elsewhere, and check the box for the candidate of their choice.
But not all primaries are the same. Some are “open” elections, meaning any voter can show up and pick a candidate from any party. Even if you vote Republican, you can still weigh in on the field of Democratic candidates when it's your state's turn for a primary.
But others are “closed” primary elections, meaning that you can only cast a ballot in the primary of the party for which you are registered. For example, if you are a registered Republican, you might only be able to check a box next to Trump's name — or you could opt for his fellow Republican opponents Bill Weld or Joe Walsh, if they're on your state's primary ballots.
Iowa is not the only state that conducts caucuses instead of primaries
Caucuses are different from primaries for a number of reasons. You do not simply show up, check a box, and leave with an “I voted” sticker.
The process can take hours, as voters gather at a venue to hear out supporters of various candidates, debate issues, and ultimately come to a conclusion about which person will make the best presidential nominee. Voters select delegates who will represent them at the party's annual convention in the summer.
Christopher Le Mon, right, a precinct captain for former Vice President Joe Biden, counts supporters during the Democratic caucus at Hempstead High School in Dubuque, Iowa, on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Nicki Kohl/Telegraph Herald via AP) Associated Press
When voters arrive at the venue, which can be anywhere from a high school gymnasium to a restaurant, supporters of certain candidates break off into groups, including groups for undecided voters. Then voters, who are typically activists and very politically engaged, will plead their case to everyone about why their preferred candidate is the best choice.
With a large field of candidates and a diverse spectrum of ideology in the Democratic race, this could take all night. On Monday night's Iowa caucuses, the process stretched into the next day due to the errors in reporting the results. By Tuesday afternoon, Iowa's results still hadn't been released.
Most caucuses have a threshold to earn delegates, meaning that a candidate might need 15% or more of the votes to be awarded delegates. For instance, Ted Cruz earned eight delegates in the 2017 Iowa caucuses, while Donald Trump and Marco Rubio each earned seven, respectively.
Iowa is the most famous, but five states and three US territories conduct caucuses in lieu of a primary election. Alaska, Kansas, Hawaii, Maine, and Washington used to conduct caucuses, but recently switched to primaries.
This article is about political meetings. For the geographic region, see Caucasus. For the purported ancestor of Caucasians, see Caucas.
A caucus is a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party or movement.
The exact definition varies between different countries.
The term originated in the United States, where it can refer to a meeting of members of a political party to nominate candidates, plan policy, etc, in the United States Congress, or other similar representative organs of government.
The term has spread to certain Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, where it generally refers to a regular meeting of all members of Parliament who belong to a parliamentary party. In such a context, a party caucus can be quite powerful, as it has the ability to elect or dismiss the party's parliamentary leader.
Origin of the term
Lewis Carroll mocked the futility of caucuses in “A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale”, Chapter 3 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865): when the “Caucus-race” of running in a circle stops, everyone is declared a winner by the Dodo and Alice is told to hand out prizes to all others, receiving her own thimble as her prize.
The origin of the word caucus is debated, but it is generally agreed that it first came into use in the British colonies of North America.
A February 1763 entry in the diary of John Adams of Braintree, Massachusetts, is one of the earliest appearances of Caucas, already with its modern connotations of a “smoke-filled room” where candidates for public election are pre-selected in private:
This day learned that the Caucas Clubb meets at certain Times in the Garret of Tom Daws, the Adjutant of the Boston Regiment. He has a large House, and he has a moveable Partition in his Garrett, which he takes down and the whole Clubb meets in one Room.
There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one End of the Garrett to the other.
There they drink Phlip I suppose, and there they choose a Moderator, who puts Questions to the Vote regularly, and Selectman, Assessors, Collectors, Wardens, Fire Wards, and Representatives are Regularly chosen before they are chosen in the Town …
An article in Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896, surveying famous presidential campaigns of the past, begins with an unsourced popular etymology of the origin of the caucus:
The Origin of the “Caucus”
The presidential nominating convention is a modern institution. In the early days of the Republic a very different method was pursued in order to place the candidates for the highest office in the land before the people.
In the first place, as to the origin of the “caucus.
” In the early part of the eighteenth century a number of caulkers connected with the shipping business in the North End of Boston held a meeting for consultation. That meeting was the germ of the political caucuses which have formed so prominent a feature of our government ever since its organization.
The anti-Britain episode happened on March 5, 1770 and on that occasion five Bostonians were killed by the English musketry; but this interpretation seems to be contradicted, besides by the abovementioned John Adams, also by William Gordon (1728–1807), who lived the whole course of the American Revolution and shortly thereafter published his history of those events: “The word caucus, and its derivative caucusing, are often used in Boston […] The word is not of novel invention. More than fifty years ago, Mr. Samuel Adams's father, and twenty others, one or two from the north end of the town, where all the ship business is carried on, used to meet, make a caucus, and lay their plan for introducing certain persons into places' of trust and power.”
No wholly satisfactory etymology has been documented. James Hammond Trumbull suggested to the American Philological Association that it comes from an Algonquian word for “counsel”, 'cau´-cau-as´u'. The word might also derive from the Algonquian cawaassough, meaning an advisor, talker, or orator.
 This explanation was favoured by Charles Dudley Warner. The American Heritage Dictionary suggests that it possibly derived from medieval Latin caucus, meaning “drinking vessel”, such as might have been used for the flip drunk at Caucus Club of colonial Boston.
In fact, the appearance of the term coincides with the spreading in England – and therefore also in America – of the inns they called cocues because they were places to drink the new cheap liquor called “gin” or “cuckoo liquor” since it was obtained from the distillation of so-called “cuckoo barley”, namely barley sown very late in the spring and therefore unsuitable for the distillation of beer. That these were places where people drank abundantly is also attested by Obadiah Benjamin Franklin Bloomfield in his autobiography: “Richard had set out hospitably […] A caucus had been accordingly held by these worthies, and it was resolved nem. con. that they should first make a drunkard of him, and then pluck him, aye, even of the last feather.”
An analogical Latin-type plural “cauci” is occasionally used.
In the United States
Precincts from Washington State's 46th Legislative District caucus in a school lunchroom (2008).
In United States politics and government, caucus has several distinct but related meanings. Members of a political party or subgroup may meet to coordinate members' actions, choose group policy, or nominate candidates for various offices.
Caucuses to select election candidates
Further information: Iowa caucuses, Texas caucuses, Nevada caucuses, and Colorado Caucus
See also: United States presidential primary and United States presidential nominating convention
There is no provision for the role of political parties in the United States Constitution.
In the first two presidential elections, the Electoral College handled nominations and elections in 1789 and 1792 which selected George Washington. After that, Congressional party or a state legislature party caucus selected the party's presidential candidates.
Nationally, these caucuses were replaced by the party convention starting in 1832 following the lead of the Anti-Masonic Party 1831 convention.
The term caucus is frequently used to discuss the procedures used by some states to select presidential nominees such as the Iowa caucuses, the first of the modern presidential election cycle, and the Texas caucuses. Since 1980 such caucuses have become, in the aggregate, an important component of the nomination process.
What is a Caucus?
A caucus is a meeting of members of a group or subgroup to discuss issues and make decisions. “To caucus” (verb) means the process of meeting to discuss issues and come to a decision.
Caucuses can occur in many different contexts. The most common use of the word caucus comes in two different areas:
- In the mediation process
- In the political process
- In business processes, including union negotiations.
Caucuses are often closed, with their discussions kept confidential.
In mediation, the two parties to a dispute get together with a mediator to try to work out an agreement on their differences. In the mediation process, a caucus is a confidential meeting of members of one side of a dispute, usually with the mediator.
As the mediation process begins, all parties meet as a group with the mediator, then they go to separate rooms to discuss the issue, in caucuses. The mediator goes back and forth between the two caucusing parties, hoping to bring them together.
Sometimes difficulties arise between the parties and a caucus in this instance can become a “time out” and cooling off period. Mediators use caucuses in divorce mediation for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes a caucus can give one party an opportunity to “sound off” without alienating the other side.
At other times they may be a way to test alternative solutions to each side separately or to offer negotiating advice to one side or the other.
A caucus in the political sense is also a discussion by a group. In this case, the group makes decisions on candidates or issues. Political caucuses have been used to select delegates to conventions or in legislatures to discuss an issue outside of the legislative process.
Within the U.S. political system, there is another kind of caucus. In this case, the word “caucus” is used to describe a group with shared ethnicity or viewpoints within a political party.
Many state legislatures and Congress have causes – groups of legislatures with a common purpose.
For example, some states have women's caucuses; the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus has as its mission “the premiere voice and leading monitor of issues, legislation and policies, which impact women.”
The U.S. Congress has many caucuses, from an Auto Care Caucus to the Tea Party Caucus. These groups are formed under different rules in the House and Senate.
The two political parties caucus very differently. In the 2016 Iowa caucuses, as noted by Fox News, supporters of candidates may campaign and make speeches before balloting. The process for the Democratic party is more complicated.
The word “caucus” supposedly comes from an Algonquin word for “gathering of tribal chiefs,” and this definition seems most appropriate for the political caucus process.
You may have heard of the Iowa Caucuses, which are held early in the year of a presidential election. In this particular caucus process, groups of Democrats and Republicans in precincts in Iowa meet to discuss the possible candidates for U.S. president and to elect delegates who support these candidates.
In any kind of caucus, the group may take a straw poll to attempt to determine the wishes of a group. The straw poll is unofficial, to see which way the wind is blowing.
In the past straw polls were local, but in the most recent elections, straw polls have become computerized. Before elections, large-scale, scientifically determined surveys are taken of a random sample of the population in an area. They are used to test public opinion on candidates or issues.
Caucuses function in two situations in businesses and in labor unions:
When a business and a union get together to negotiate a new union contract, there may be times when the two sides need to caucus. Here's how this works in a typical union negotiation:
There Is A Significant Difference Between The Caucus & The Primary Processes
The Iowa caucus — the first-in-the-nation voting event that will help to shape the political narrative around the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination — comes as the candidates are locked in an atypical four-way tossup. The four leaders include Sens.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former vice president Joe Biden, and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg. No one of the four leaders of the pack currently standing apart as an obvious choice to face off against incumbent President Donald Trump in November.
After the votes are tallied and the pundit class has had its say on Monday night, the candidates will move on to New Hampshire, where voters will participate in a semi-closed primary election.
The process, while quite confusing and lacking transparency in practice, is only one part of the larger election.
So, what’s the big difference between a caucus and a primary — and what implications do the early state nominating contests have for the rest of the primary process?
Both primaries and caucuses are about one thing: amassing delegates.
In the United States, voters casting a ballot aren’t directly selecting who they want to be the presidential nominee; instead, they’re indirectly influencing the number of delegates their state will send to a given political party’s convention in the summer before an election, and those delegates will then nominate a candidate for the presidency.
In a caucus, voters engage in debate and give passionate speeches in an effort to convince their fellow caucus-goers to switch their support from one candidate to another.
It’s a time-honored tradition that many consider to be quintessentially American: debate vigorously, engage with your neighbors, practice free speech, and, eventually, help to determine through popular vote who will serve as your elected representative.
In comparison, a primary is a pared down version of the same process: Voters select their candidate through a blind ballot — usually by bubbling in a name on a form — without all the bells and whistles. This is more in line with the actual voting process we see in the general election.
Although delegates are the name of the game during the primary selecting process, both of the first states to vote have just peanuts to offer in comparison to the rest of the electoral map. Of the 3,979 pledged delegates that will attend the Democratic National Convention in 2020, Iowa and New Hampshire will send just 41 and 24, respectively.
But the voting contests carry increased significance in both states thanks to the outsized blitz of media attention they enjoy, as well as the fact that the candidates who emerge as frontrunners there generally go on to receive their party’s nomination. This was most notably true in 1976, when Jimmy Carter’s upstart campaign emerged victorious, stunning the nation and eventually netting Carter the presidency.
No matter what happens in Iowa on Monday, the results will be sure to shape the rest of the primary process — and, inevitably, the outcome of the general election in November.
Primaries and Caucuses
Caucus: Organized by political parties, a caucus is a meeting of supporters of a specific political party who gather to elect delegates to choose whom they believe should be the candidate in a given election.
Primary: A primary is a method of selecting a candidate similar to that of a general election. It is an organized statewide event put on by the state government where voters cast a secret ballot for the candidate of their choosing. Whomever receives a majority of the votes is the winner.
The election cycle in the United States is long. Years before the date of the election, possible presidential candidates begin speaking and touring, trying to get a sense of how much public support for their candidacy exists. The majority of candidates belong to one of two major parties in the United States, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.
Both parties select their candidates in nominating conventions which occur in the months before the national election in November of the election year. Who the parties select is dependent upon which candidate possess the majority of delegates at the nominating convention.
It is these delegates that voters are truly making the selection of the candidate, not your vote!
There are two main methods by which these candidates are selected. These methods are a primary and a caucus. A primary is a method of selecting a candidate similar to that of a general election. It is an organized statewide event put on by the state government where voters cast a secret ballot for the candidate of their choosing.
Whomever receives a majority of the votes is the winner. In state and local elections, this candidate goes on to run for the office. In a presidential primary, however, the winner is given a majority number of the state’s delegates to the nominating convention.
Most states only allow voters to participate in the party’s primary in which they identify as a member.
A caucus is a very different process. Organized by the political parties themselves, caucuses are a “meeting of neighbors”. Groups of citizens come together in local assemblies to discuss who they think will be the best candidate.
At the end of the meeting, an election is held where by delegates to a county or state convention who pledge to support the majority candidate are selected.
These delegates go on to select the delegates to the national convention, who will eventually choose which candidate from that party will run for office.
So how did this complex system come about? And why do the political parties have so much control? Well stay tuned to Think the Vote to find out!
What Is the Difference between a Primary Election and a Caucus?
By Kirk Bailey
Primaries and caucuses are methods that political parties use to select candidates for a general election. Here are some details on the two election methods.
What are primaries?
A primary is a state-level election where party members vote to choose a candidate affiliated with their political party. Party candidates selected in a primary then run against each other in a general election. Thirty-four U.S. states conduct primary elections.
There are several types of primaries in the U.S. system.
- Closed primary: Participation is open only to a particular political party’s registered members. Independents or other party members cannot participate.
- Semi-closed primary: Participation is open to registered party members and unaffiliated voters. State election rules determine whether unaffiliated voters may make their choice of party primary in the privacy of the voting booth or in public by registering with a party on Election Day.
- Open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary.
- Semi-open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary but when they identify themselves to election officials they must request a party’s specific ballot.
Here’s a calendar of primaries and caucuses in the 2012 presidential election.
What are caucuses?
A caucus is a local meeting where registered members of a political party in a city, town or county gather to vote for their preferred party candidate and conduct other party business. Caucuses typically are used in combination with a state convention to elect delegates to the national nominating convention for presidential elections.
The caucus is the oldest method of choosing delegates in the U.S., widely acknowledged as originating in the English colonies before the American Revolution.
Sixteen states hold caucuses to determine political party candidates. Iowa holds the first, and most significant, caucuses in the presidential election cycle.
More info on the Iowa caucuses can be found in the Drake University field guide to the Iowa caucuses.