Primary vs. Caucus

By Shelby Holliday 01.10.2012 blog

Time for a not-so-random political fact!

You all know that the nation’s primary season kicked off with the Iowa Caucus last week, but did you know that today’s contest in New Hampshire is the nation’s first primary election of 2012?
I was a bit confused by all of this political terminology, so I did some quick Google research and found out why a caucus is much different from a primary. Here’s what I learned.
CAUCUS: A caucus is “a meeting at the local level in which registered members of a political party in a city, town or county gather to express support for a candidate.”
  • Although the caucus was the original method for selecting candidates, times have changed, and only a hand full of states still participate (
  • Voting in a caucus often requires more of a time commitment than voting in a primary; caucus meetings are called at a certain place and time, and participants can openly speak or show support for candidates
  • Voting in a caucus is less formal; people show support by doing things like raising hands, writing names on paper, and breaking into groups according to candidate
  • Due in large part to the greater time commitment, there is generally less participation in caucuses compared to primaries (PBS)
PRIMARY: A primary is “a state-level election in which voters choose a candidate affiliated with a political party to run against a candidate who is affiliated with another political party in a later, general election.”
  • The primary was first adopted by Florida 1904, but it didn’t gain popularity until 1969, when the rules were changed to allow more citizens to vote for delegates (PBS)
  • Similar to the general election, voters go to polling places and cast secret ballots
  • Primaries are usually considered to be “open” or “closed.” (Most are closed). In an open primary, all registered voters can vote for any candidate, regardless of their political party affiliation. In a closed primary, only registered voters of a particular party can vote for a candidate of that party

So, there you have it. Although both select delegates, the process of the caucus and primary are verrry different from one another. Now, if you’re up for reading more not-so-random political facts, check out this WaPo article to find out why New Hampshire is obsessed with being “first-in-the-nation.”

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