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Are Caucuses Better than Primaries?

Updated: Mar 24

The Democratic and Republican Party's presidential nomination began in Iowa on Jan. 15. Every state has the power to choose how its citizens will vote for their preferred presidential candidate. There are two main processes for presidential nomination: primaries and caucuses. 

Primaries are essentially typical elections. There are poll stations open during specified voting days to allow citizens to vote for their preferred candidate.

Caucuses are meetings where members of a political party vote on the nomination of their presidential candidate, on policy proposals and other party affairs.

In the current political climate of heightened polarization, many unresolved social issues prevent the country from growing, like Americans’ distrust of the electoral process and the lack of safe spaces to discuss and understand others’ opinions.

Caucuses can help to solve these crucial problems.

One positive is that caucuses encourage people to get involved. 68% of Americans feel a sense of non-belonging in the nation and 74% felt the same in their local community. Caucuses allow them to be involved in their community because in caucuses they discuss community issues, express their opinion on policy proposals affecting their region, offer solutions to local issues and a safe space to debate.

Caucuses are also managed by the parties, not state governments which helps separate the two. Presently, 72% of the Democrats are confident that their party will accurately count the votes. It is only 32% for the Republicans. This concerning statistic exists for many reasons, but the two most important ones are the multiple electoral fraud claims from Trump and the power of state governments.

Trump’s electoral fraud claims mostly stem from the vote-counting process. Caucuses can be counted easily and publicly. Prior to 2024, Iowa Democrats were gathered in caucus sites with a representative for every candidate. Members would express their vote by gathering around the representative of their preferred candidate. If candidates had less than 15% of the members, their members would vote for another representative’s candidate. This voting process is more dynamic, allows members to witness the vote-counting process and potentially makes them trust their party’s election officials. In other words, this method can reduce vote-counting distrust because the members are present during the process.

The Republicans currently prefer state legislators to count the votes instead of their election officials. The issue is that state governments establish the rules of the electoral process and with partisan-led motivation, state governments can influence elections by gerrymandering, for instance. To make voters trust their election officials, there should be a separation between government and partisanship, like the caucuses allow. This separation is already present in many democratic countries.

The government of Canada, one of the most democratic countries in the world per the democracy index, is barely involved in the electoral process. The nomination of the leader for every party is managed by the party itself and follows a strict process created by its members. All federal elections are managed by Canada Elections, an organization independent of the government. A definite separation between partisanship and government helps legitimize nominations and elections in Canada. Caucuses make that separation because the parties manage their nomination, like in Canada, instead of the state governments.

The duration is the main problem of the caucuses. They last for hours and happen during weekdays, so not all citizens are available to participate. However, the caucus system can be adapted to resolve this major problem by organizing caucuses at different times for a whole week. A possible solution would be to hold caucuses at different times throughout a designated week which would allow more people from different backgrounds to come and express their concerns. A summary of the “Caucus Week” can then be sent to every member of each party to inform them about what the party learned from the discussions.

The caucus system is not perfect, nor are the primaries. However, it can make Americans more involved in politics by letting them discuss community-level and national issues, which can then lead to policy proposals. Also, organizing multiple caucuses throughout the designated week may help reverse the poor voter turnout in the caucuses. The Iowa Democrats found another alternative to this issue, which is holding their presidential candidate’s nomination by mail. This strategy may increase voter turnout too. Finally, caucuses separate partisanship and government, which can help Americans trust the nomination process of presidential candidates and the presidential elections again. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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