What's a Caucus, and why is it happening in Iowa, and why is it a big deal, I thought we were doing the primaries, whatever those are...
Yeah. That's the question of the moment. We are about to determine who the nominations will go to for both the Republican National Convention, RNC, and the Democratic National Convention, DNC. There is a cast of characters on both sides trying to get the approval of their party's constituents, but why the weird name for what is basically a preliminary state election?
First, a little trivia. The election of the president and how that is supposed to happen is not in the Constitution, it was created over time by the political parties. Some states only hold primary elections, some only hold caucuses, and others use a combination of both. These primaries and caucuses are staggered generally between January and June before the general election in November. The primary elections are run by state and local governments, while caucuses are private events that are directly run by the political parties themselves. A state's primary election or caucus is usually an indirect election: instead of voters directly selecting a particular person running for President, they determine how many delegates each party's national convention will receive from their respective state. These delegates then in turn select their party's presidential nominee. Also, just a little note, most election laws do not normally apply to caucuses.
The process is a controversial one. Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other small states which traditionally hold their primaries and caucuses first usually have a major impact on the races, while voters in California and other large states which traditionally hold their primaries last in June generally end up having no say because the races are usually over by then. As a result, more states vie for earlier primaries to claim a greater influence in the process.
According to Wikipedia, "A caucus is a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party or movement. The term originated in the United States, but has spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil and Nepal. As the use of the term has been expanded, the exact definition has come to vary among political cultures." As with so many things, no one can really agree as to the whens and whys and hows of a ye olde tradition. In this case, Caucas (not a misspelling I assure you) with it's modern usage was seen in the diary of John Adams (the 2nd president of the USA) in February 1763. The way he describes it, it's a select group of power players determining, in a gathering like a cocktail party, who shall be the ones that will be elected, before the general election.
There they drink Phlip I suppose, and there they choose a Moderator, who puts Questions to the Vote regularly, and select Men, Assessors, Collectors, Wardens, Fire Wards, and Representatives are Regularly chosen before they are chosen in the Town...
Further in history in an article in Great Leaders and National Issues in 1896, a popular etymology is posited.
"..as to the origin of the "caucus." In the early part of the eighteenth century a number of caulkers connected with the shipping business in the North End of Boston held a meeting for consultation. That meeting was the germ of the political caucuses which have formed so prominent a feature of our government ever since its organization."
Okay... So... It basically started as a way to see who would be electable. Alright. That's easy enough to digest.
Now... What's the process we are about to see in the first of the choosings, Iowa?
"...residents of the U.S. state of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of Iowa's 1,681/1,682 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county conventions. There are 99 counties in Iowa, and thus there are 99 conventions. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions."
Here is where it get's weird, unless you are from Iowa and have done this your whole life.