Election Series Podcast

Ep. 16 Primaries and Caucuses

Primaries and Caucuses

Primaries and Caucuses

During an election cycle we hear a lot of vocabulary being thrown around that we almost never hear about at any other time. Terms like delegates, caucuses, super PACs, electoral college. Like a hibernating bear these concepts wake up after a long sleep. If you have never been a part of the political process this can be daunting and creating almost a barrier of entry. This might turn people off from truly getting involved.

Over the next month or so we will be breaking down these barriers. Preparing you for the upcoming conventions and giving you the information you need to understand these crazy ideas, and getting involved in the political process.

So during the primary season, the candidates have debates, run ads, phone bank, and canvass like crazy to influence voters to vote for them. At the end of this process, hopefully there is a clear candidate for who will get the nomination for that party to run for president.

While there are more than two political parties, for this episode we will be focusing on the two dominant parties, the Republican and Democratic parties. While I believe we need to have more than those two parties, discussing them in this episode doesn’t fit because they typically don’t have much in the way of primaries. However, we will bring them up throughout the series.

Each state has its own level of voting. In some states there are primaries, in other states, there are caucuses. There are open primaries, and closed primaries. It’s a really convoluted process and this leads to many people not participating because it is so complicated, and the importance of this process is not clear.


So what is a primary?

  • “In the early twentieth century there was a movement to give more power to citizens in the selection of candidates for the party’s nomination. The primary election developed from this reform movement. In a primary election, registered voters may participate in choosing the candidate for the party’s nomination by voting through secret ballot, as in a general election.”  https://votesmart.org/education/presidentialprimary#.VtyEXtBZZF8

Closed VS Open Primaries

In a closed primary, you have to declare a party, and then you can vote for a candidate for that party. In an open primary, you don’t have to declare a party, you can vote for either. But you can’t vote more than once, meaning, you couldn’t vote for a republican and a democrat candidate.

  • “A third, less common type of primary, the blanket primary, allows registered voters to participate in all primaries” https://votesmart.org/education/presidentialprimary#.VtyEXtBZZF8
  • Blanket Primary: A nonpartisan blanket primary is a primary election in which all candidates for the same elected office, regardless of respective political party, run against each other at once, instead of being segregated by political party.
  • The California blanket primary was ruled unconstitutional in 2000 because it forced political parties to endorse a candidate against their will.
  • More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonpartisan_blanket_primary

What is a caucus?

  • A caucus is a meeting of the members of a legislative body who are members of a particular political party, to select candidates or decide policy. The difference is in a primary, it’s a ballot system. In a caucus, people gather together and vote for a delegate, who supports a certain candidate.
  • “At a caucus, members of a political party meet in person at an appointed time and location to discuss the candidates and debate their merits. The voting for candidates happens either by raising hands or by separating into groups, with the votes being counted manually by counting the number of supporters of each candidate” http://www.diffen.com/difference/Caucus_vs_Primary
  • “The caucus system was the original way in which political parties choose candidates. However, people began to feel that the secret ballot was a fairer, more democratic system so in the beginning of the 20th century, states began to move to the primary system.” http://www.diffen.com/difference/Caucus_vs_Primary
  • States that use the caucus system:
    • Alaska
    • Colorado
    • Hawaii
    • Kansas
    • Maine
    • Minnesota
    • Nevada
    • North Dakota
    • Wyoming
    • Iowa
  • Caucus process explained: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/national/what-caucus-and-why-does-iowa-have-one/nqFhT/
  • Iowa likes being the first state to caucus. They even passed a state law that the caucus must occur before any other state’s primary, by at least 8 days.

Super Tuesday

  • There are a few front running states: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are the most notable, but the biggest day of the primaries is Super Tuesday.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lojb-a5VZK0  On that day, 12 states have their primaries/caucus. TN is one of those.
  • Since Iowa is the first state to go, it is the first hurdle for candidates. After this, the candidates will whittle down. In this primary year, after Iowa, we are left with only 2 Democrat candidates, out of the 5 that started! And on the Republican side, they started with 17 candidates, but they started dropping like flies during the primaries.

Post Primary Voting

  • So after the voting is done, for the democrats, they each get a certain number of delegates, based on the % they received in the voting. This process will be explained further in our upcoming episode on delegates.
  • As for the Republicans, each state is different. For the Democrats, each candidate gets a %. However, some states’ Republican primaries are “Winner Take All” states. This means, that the candidate with the highest % of the vote, then gets all the delegates for the republicans, in that state.
  • To win the nomination, a candidate must secure 50 per cent of the delegates plus one. The Democrats have not yet finalized their delegate numbers but they are estimated to be 4,764. The Republicans have 2,472, so a candidate must win 1,237 delegates.

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