Primaries And Caucuses For Dummies

Primaries And Caucuses For Dummies

What they are, how they work, and their significance

It’s that time again. Election season is finally here. In just a matter of time, eight months to be exact, we will have elected our 45th president. Right now everyone is focused on primaries and caucuses. Some of you are probably wondering what in the world is a primary? What is a caucus? If you have been asking yourselves these questions, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I will cover everything from the history of primaries and caucuses, their processes, and their place in modern politics.

All your questions will be answered. First, let’s start with some brief history.

The Beginning

Primaries began in the late 19th and 20th centuries when progressive reformers felt that political parties had too much power over the nomination process and wanted citizens to have a say. As a result of this movement, primaries were created. In 1901, Florida held the first ever presidential primary election.

Caucuses, on the other hand, were the original method for selecting a party’s candidate for nomination. They date back to the early 1800’s when politicians would meet to decide the presidential and vice presidential nominees. They have since been diminished in size after the primary method was introduced. As of the 2016 primary elections, 15 states use the caucus system. These states are: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The other 37 states hold primaries. All five major American territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Northern Marina Islands, Guam and the Virgin Islands) use both the primary and the caucus systems.

It’s important to note that some states have both a caucus and a primary. Idaho, for example, has both a primary and a caucus. This is because both the Democratic party and the Republican party have preferential voting methods for each state. The primary in Idaho is for the Republicans, and the caucus in Idaho is for the Democrats. It is also important to note that sometimes both parties have their primaries and caucuses on the same date, while other times they are on separate dates.

Differences between a Primary and a Caucus

There are many differences between a primary and a caucus. A primary takes place at a polling center where the voter uses a secret ballot to select their nominee. This is similar to the presidential elections, where a voter also uses a secret ballot. There are two main types of primaries: open and closed. In an open primary, anyone from any political party can vote in either primary. In a closed primary, only voters registered with a specific party may vote in the election for that party. The two other types of primaries are the semi-open primary and the semi-closed primary. In a semi-open primary, registered voters don’t need to declare which political party’s primary they will vote for. Once they finally vote, however, they must select a specific party’s ballot. In a semi-closed primary, registered party members must only vote for their party’s primary. Independent voters, however, are the exception, and may choose to vote in either primary (but can only vote in one). Each state chooses their own type of primary. New Hampshire is a semi-closed primary, where registered voters must stick to their party, but independents are allowed to vote. Primary rules vary by state. Some states require both parties use the same methods, while other states allow the party to pick what type of primary they use. As an example, Utah has a closed primary for Republicans and a semi-open primary for Democrats. However, other states may decide which type of primary’s each party uses.

A caucus consists of a local meeting that takes place in a school, church, or city center where registered voters of a specific party gather to vote for their preferred presidential candidate. Both parties perform their caucuses differently. After opening remarks, Republicans cast their votes on a secret ballot. The Democrats divide into groups of their preferred candidate and try to persuade the other groups to come to their side. Groups that receive less than 15% of attendees are eliminated and much choose between the
remaining candidates. The group with the most members determines the winning candidate.

The purpose

The primary/caucus elections serve as a prelude to the presidential elections. Each state is designated a certain number of delegates. Delegates are people sent to represent the party. When a candidate wins a primary/caucus they receive a certain amount of delegates to represent them for the nomination. Once they reach the maximum number of delegates needed to win the nomination they are announced as the winner at a convention. Then, from there, they face off their opponent (whoever won the other party's nomination) for the general election. For the 2016 elections, a Republican nominee must obtain 1237 delegates to win the nomination out of a possible 2472, while a Democratic nominee needs 2383 for the nomination out of a possible 4765. The number of delegates per state differs by party as well. For instance, Kansas has 40 designated delegates for the Republican nomination, while it has only 33 designated delegates for the Democratic nomination. The number of delegates given to the winner is determined using different methods, both of which differ by party.

The Republicans have three methods used to allocate the appropriate amount of delegates to the winners of the primaries/caucuses: Proportional, winner-take-all, and hybrid. In the proportional method, states proportionally allocate delegates based on the primary/caucus votes they receive either congressionally or statewide. In the winner-take-all method, the winner gets all delegates of the state. And in the hybrid method, the winner is determined using different aspects of both the proportional and the winner-take-all methods.

The Democrats have two methods used to allocate the appropriate amount of delegates to the winners of the primaries/caucuses: pledged and unpledged delegates. Pledged delegates are required to support a nominee if that candidate wins at least 15 percent of the vote in the state. There are three types of pledged delegates: at-large delegates, congressional district delegates and PLEO delegates (pledged party leader and elected officials). Unpledged delegates, also known as “superdelegates”, are automatic convention delegates that are not pledged to support a specific presidential candidate.

Finally, the primary and caucus election winner becomes the party’s nomination who is then officially announced the winner at their party’s convention. This convention takes place in the summer of election season. After the winners are announced, they face off in the presidential election.

As of right now, Donald Trump leads the Republican primary elections with 378 delegates, while Senator Ted Cruz remains in a close second with 295 delegates. For the Democratic primary elections, Hillary Clinton has a strong lead with 1121 delegates to Senator Bernie Sander’s 479 delegates.

Cover Image Credit: Voice of America
Cover Image Credit: Blogspot

Popular Right Now

College As Told By Junie B. Jones

A tribute to the beloved author Barbara Parks.

The Junie B. Jones series was a big part of my childhood. They were the first chapter books I ever read. On car trips, my mother would entertain my sister and me by purchasing a new Junie B. Jones book and reading it to us. My favorite part about the books then, and still, are how funny they are. Junie B. takes things very literally, and her (mis)adventures are hilarious. A lot of children's authors tend to write for children and parents in their books to keep the attention of both parties. Barbara Park, the author of the Junie B. Jones series, did just that. This is why many things Junie B. said in Kindergarten could be applied to her experiences in college, as shown here.

When Junie B. introduces herself hundreds of times during orientation week:

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 1)

When she goes to her first college career fair:

"Yeah, only guess what? I never even heard of that dumb word careers before. And so I won't know what the heck we're talking about." (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 2)

When she thinks people in class are gossiping about her:

“They whispered to each other for a real long time. Also, they kept looking at me. And they wouldn't even stop." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When someone asks her about the library:

“It's where the books are. And guess what? Books are my very favorite things in the whole world!" (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 27)

When she doesn't know what she's eating at the caf:

“I peeked inside the bread. I stared and stared for a real long time. 'Cause I didn't actually recognize the meat, that's why. Finally, I ate it anyway. It was tasty...whatever it was." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When she gets bored during class:

“I drew a sausage patty on my arm. Only that wasn't even an assignment." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 18)

When she considers dropping out:

“Maybe someday I will just be the Boss of Cookies instead!" (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 76)

When her friends invite her to the lake for Labor Day:

“GOOD NEWS! I CAN COME TO THE LAKE WITH YOU, I BELIEVE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 17)

When her professor never enters grades on time:

“I rolled my eyes way up to the sky." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 38)

When her friends won't stop poking her on Facebook:

“Do not poke me one more time, and I mean it." (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 7)

When she finds out she got a bad test grade:

“Then my eyes got a little bit wet. I wasn't crying, though." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 17)

When she isn't allowed to have a pet on campus but really wants one:


When she has to walk across campus in the dark:

“There's no such thing as monsters. There's no such thing as monsters." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 12)

When her boyfriend breaks her heart:

“I am a bachelorette. A bachelorette is when your boyfriend named Ricardo dumps you at recess. Only I wasn't actually expecting that terrible trouble." (Junie B. Jones Is (almost) a Flower Girl, p. 1)

When she paints her first canvas:

"And painting is the funnest thing I love!" (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 61)

When her sorority takes stacked pictures:

“The biggie kids stand in the back. And the shortie kids stand in the front. I am a shortie kid. Only that is nothing to be ashamed of." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 7)

When she's had enough of the caf's food:

“Want to bake a lemon pie? A lemon pie would be fun, don't you think?" (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed p. 34)

When she forgets about an exam:

“Speechless is when your mouth can't speech." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 54)

When she finds out she has enough credits to graduate:

“A DIPLOMA! A DIPLOMA! I WILL LOVE A DIPLOMA!" (Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl p. 6)

When she gets home from college:

"IT'S ME! IT'S JUNIE B. JONES! I'M HOME FROM MY SCHOOL!" (Junie B. Jones and some Sneaky Peaky Spying p. 20)

Cover Image Credit: OrderOfBooks

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Abortion Bans Are Only A Small Part Of The Republican War On Women

These bans expose the Republican Party for what it truly is.


This week, several states passed laws that ban abortion after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, before most women even know that they're pregnant. The most egregious of these is Alabama — the state has banned abortion except for in cases of danger to the mother. Exceptions in the cases of rape and incest were actively voted against by the state legislature. Under the new law, any doctor who is caught giving an abortion would be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and the woman would be charged with murder.

Apart from the fact that this explicitly violates the decision of Roe v. Wade (which is the point), this is only a small part of the slow but steady degradation of women's rights by Republicans in the United States. To anyone who believes that this is simply about people being "pro-life" or "saving the children," then tell them to look at what happens after the fetus is carried to term.

Republicans oppose forcing fathers to be involved in the lives of their children that were forcibly carried to term, desires to cut food stamps and make it more difficult to feed said child, cut funding for affordable housing to make it more difficult for them to find homes, cut spending to public education so these children can't move up the social ladder, and refuse to offer the woman or her child health insurance to keep them both healthy. What about efforts to prevent pregnancy? Republicans also oppose funding birth control and contraception, as well as opposing comprehensive sexual education. To them, the only feasible solution is to simply keep your legs shut. They oppose all of these things because it is, in their eyes, a violation of individual rights to force people to do something. The bill also makes women who get abortions felons, and felons can't vote. I'll let you finish putting those two together.

If you view it from this framework, it would seem like Republicans are being extremely hypocritical by violating the personal freedoms of pregnant women, but if you look at it from the view of restricting social mobility for women, then it makes perfect sense. The Republican dogma of "individual rights" and "personal responsibility" is a socially acceptable facade that they use to cover up their true intentions of protecting the status quo and protect those in power. About any Republican policy, ask yourself: does this disperse power or consolidate it? Whether it be education, healthcare, the environment, or the economy, Republicans love to keep power away from the average citizen and give it to the small number of people that they deem "deserving" of it because of their race, gender, wealth, or power. This is the case with abortion as well; Power is being taken from women, and being given back to men in a reversal of the Feminist Movement of the 1970s.

Republicans don't believe in systemic issues. They believe that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed regardless of what point they started. This is why they love capitalism so much. It acts as some sort of great filter in which only those who deserve power can make it to the top. It's also why they hate social policies; they think that helping people who can't help themselves changes the hierarchy in a negative way by giving people who don't "deserve" power, power. Of course, we know that just because you have money and power doesn't mean you earned it fair and square, and even if Republicans believe it, it wouldn't change anything because it wouldn't change how they want to distribute power.

In short, Republican policies, including abortion, leave the average American with less money, less protection, less education, worse health, less opportunity, fewer rights, and less freedom. This is NOT a side effect. This is the point. Regardless of what Republicans will tell you about "inalienable rights" and how everyone is equal, in reality, they believe that some people and groups are more deserving of rights than others, and the group that deserves rights the most are the ones "that will do the best with them." To Republicans, this group consists of the wealthy, the powerful, and the white — the mega-rich, the CEOs of large companies, gun owners and Christians.

So, who do Republicans think deserve power and give it to? People who look and think like them. This, however, begs the question: Who do they want to take it from?

Related Content

Facebook Comments