Caucus is a meeting of supporters or members belonging to a common or specific political party or a movement.
It is held either to select a candidate as the leader, electing convention delegates or to discuss and determine the strategy for the upcoming political event.
When do we need a Caucus?
Caucuses are needed in the general election. Maybe Caucuses are not a priority for Asian countries because they follow the Parliamentary system. But, Caucuses are much needed in western countries like America.
Western countries follow the Presidential system. The presidential system is a democratic republican system of the government.
We need a caucus in a country like America to elect a presidential candidate from each political party. Before the general election, each state has its primaries and caucuses.
How is a caucus different from a regular primary?
During the general elections, every state either has a caucus or a regular primary to select a legitimate candidate for the post. But, there are few differences between a caucus and a regular primary.
A regular primary is generally done through a ballot paper. A ballot paper election is for electing only a specific candidate from the party where all the members of the party are allowed to vote.
While a caucus is a much bigger political event than a regular primary. In a caucus, there are no such possibilities of external interference. It is an event that is conducted within the party.
Primaries are held by state government while the caucus is held by state officials. Both of them are held at state level.
The voters have an accessibility to participate in a primary during any point of time of election day by casting a ballot while a caucus takes place a very specific place and time.
A caucus takes much larger commitments than a regular primary. If someone is late to attend a caucus, they won’t be allowed to take part in the political event.
Usually, a caucus takes several hours for its completion while a regular primary is set to complete in a couple of days.
What happens in Caucus?
Well, the events that may occur in a particular caucus depends on the affiliation of a political party. Despite a party being either a Republicans and Democrats, there are few common things that occur at a caucus.
1) Caucus are long affairs within the party
They probably start at a specific time like 7 pm in the evening and takes place for next 3-4 hours.
2) There always a common meetup location
Most of the voters meet at school, churches, and community centers across the state.
3) last-minute campaigning
Most of the caucus end up last- minute campaigning for every political party. Even, if campaigning is not happening it ends with a speech from the head of the party or presidential candidate.
At a caucus, confidential details are shared which is not let out, so we can certainly say “What happens at a caucus, Stays at caucus”.
Caucus of a Republican
In a Republican caucus, the elected candidate or the party head gives a speech over common problems within the country and share the political view. Voters cast their secret ballot in a private voting booth during a regular primary or general election.
Caucus of a Democrat
The voting process for a democratic party takes a lot of time.
1) The total number of voters participating in the caucus is counted.
2) Voters gather in a large room to interact with each other. During this interaction, they talk about candidates and try to predict who will win based considering the candidate’s popularity.
3) Voters are swarmed into groups to vote for a specific candidate. They may also stand aside in an undecided group.
4) The number of voters in each group is counted.
5) Any candidate who fails to meet 15% of the total headcount criteria is removed from the election.
6) The “Realignment phase” begins.
The voters from removed candidate group and the voters from the undecided group must join a new candidate’s side.
While they decide, voters talk to each other trying to decide which candidate is worthy.
7) when voters decide their candidate’s group, everyone has counted off again. The candidate who doesn’t meet the headcount criteria is removed from the election.
The process is continued until there are only eligible candidates left. This process is more time taking and interesting too. The best candidate is finally chosen to serve the party’s purpose.
What happens after the election?
Depending on the state, delegates are divided based on the result of the caucus and sent to the national party convention voting for the selected candidate on behalf of the state.
Some states have binding primary elections, which encourages “Winner takes all”. The state with such binding primary election, the candidate is awarded all the state’s delegates.
Other states have “proportional” primary elections, where delegates are awarded proportionally to popular votes.
Last but certainly not the least, There are non-binding states who select their candidates for the state convention. These candidates vote to decide how to divide the state’s delegates.
Some of the states, like Iowa start small by selecting candidates for a county convention. Out of the selected candidates, they select candidates for a state convention, who are finally allowed to vote for delegates to the national convention. It varies from state to state.
Finally, the chosen delegates for the national convention go to their respective party’s national convention for casting a vote for the presidential candidate.
At the end, delegates are counted and each political party announces its candidate for presidential election. Most of the time, delegates don’t decide who could be the winner, it could be anybody’s game.
How to get involved?
If you want to get involved in a party’s caucus, here is the chance to place yourself.
a) Is your state caucus open or closed: To involve in a caucus, you need to know whether your state caucus is open or closed? If the caucus is open, then you have to register for it. You’ll be a registered member of the party which means even if a caucus is closed you can participate.
If the caucus of your state is closed, then try to involve in the caucus of other states which are still “open”. How to know? You can refer election central list.
b) Register early to vote better: Though a caucus is different from a regular primary, you need to be a registered voter. Every caucus state allows voter registration on the same day throughout the country expect few of the states.
They could be states who can conduct it beforehand or afterward. Beforehand registration will save a lot of time.
c) It’s all about being punctual: To participate in a caucus, you need to on time. Usually, parties are strict about it.
The voters at a caucus are politically involved and it gives a chance for you to interact with them.
Why is Iowa Caucus popular and important?
Iowa caucus is the famous caucus in the entire America. The Iowa caucus account only 1% of the total delegates that will cast their votes from the National conventions. The entire primary selection process of the Iowa caucus takes months to run it.
Iowa caucus has been the first phase of caucus for the presidential election since 1972 in the America. Many political analysts claim that a lot can be determined from just a single caucus of a state.
The candidate who wins Iowa caucus not necessarily go on to win their party’s nomination, but history has witnessed exceptions too. Winning the very first caucus brings a great start to a candidate’s political career. It gives political popularity and momentum for a candidate.
This popularity and momentum of a candidate get money from its supporters and donors. This money can be invested in prime-time TV ads and floppy signs that sit on your front lawn.
In addition, Iowa Democrats will have two ways to participate. A satellite caucus for the party members who might be away due to urgent work. An active duty member of U.S military or Iowa national guard can participate through TeleCaucus.
In 2008, Barak Obama won the Iowa caucus held at Illinois with a decisive 37 percent of the ballot and went on to take control of the white house.
Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governor won the Republican caucus. However, After three months he went to nominee Arizona Senator, John McCain who finished 3rd in the overall Republican caucus.
In 2016, Iowa or Ames Straw Poll was conducted by the Republicans which was an informal ballot event held for 6 months before the Iowa caucus which gave a bad indicator for most of the electable candidates.
Conclusion: A Caucus is a decider for many political events that happen in the entire America. Many western countries, follow the caucus for choosing the best candidate for their presidential system. It’s not about the state, it’s about a country future that a caucus decides.