Do You Know the Difference Between a Caucus & a Primary?

You may think picking a presidential nominee is simple…well, you’d be wrong!

Candidates compete in a series of state primaries and caucuses where voters make their candidate choices. Those choices determine the number of delegates that are allocated to each candidate for that party’s summertime convention. It’s these delegates (not voters) who officially elect their party’s presidential nominee every four years.

What is a Caucus? It’s a community meeting where members of a party come together to make their candidate choices known and select the delegates for the nominating convention. Caucuses are run by the state’s political parties and they allow voters to talk about their candidate choices.

What is a Primary? This is the most common kind of nominating contest. Usually the state arranges a statewide vote, and voters cast ballots in the privacy of a booth. Some are “open” which means any registered voter can cast a ballot in that party’s primary, and some are closed, requiring voters to actually be a registered member of the party. For example…if registered as an Independent in a state with a “closed” primary, that particular person is NOT allowed to vote in either a democratic or republican primary.

The state then calculates vote totals into delegate allocation. Democrats allocate delegates proportionally – mostly based on statewide results and results inside individual Congressional districts. For Republicans, some GOP primaries give their delegates to one state, while other states dole them out proportionally. And some mix the two methods.

How does a state choose which contest to hold? In the decades since 1970’s modern primary came into style, most states and both parties have transitioned from caucuses to primaries.

Advocates of primaries say they make democracy better, allowing more voters to cast ballots when it’s convenient for them as well as a chance to participate in the process.

Evidence in Colorado – this year there were 15 times more voters in their primary than in 2016 when they held a caucus.