Caucus

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 and Nepal. As the use of the term has been expanded, the exact definition has come to vary among political cultures.

Origin of the term

Alice par John Tenniel 09
Lewis Carroll mocked the futility of caucuses in "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale", Chapter 3 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865): when the "Caucus-race" of running in a circle stops, everyone is declared a winner by the Dodo and Alice is told to hand out prizes to all others, receiving her own thimble as her prize.

The origin of the word caucus is debated, but it is generally agreed that it first came into use in the British colonies of North America.[1]

A February 1763 entry in the diary of John Adams of Braintree, Massachusetts, is one of the earliest appearances of Caucas, already with its modern connotations of a "smoke-filled room" where candidates for public election are pre-selected in private:

This day learned that the Caucas Clubb meets at certain Times in the Garret of Tom Daws, the Adjutant of the Boston Regiment. He has a large House, and he has a moveable Partition in his Garrett, which he takes down and the whole Clubb meets in one Room.
There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one End of the Garrett to the other. There they drink Phlip I suppose, and there they choose a Moderator, who puts Questions to the Vote regularly, and Selectman, Assessors, Collectors, Wardens, Fire Wards, and Representatives are Regularly chosen before they are chosen in the Town ...[2]

An article in Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896, surveying famous presidential campaigns of the past, begins with an unsourced popular etymology of the origin of the caucus:[3]

The Origin of the "Caucus"
The presidential nominating convention is a modern institution. In the early days of the Republic a very different method was pursued in order to place the candidates for the highest office in the land before the people.
In the first place, 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.

No wholly satisfactory etymology has been documented.[4] James Hammond Trumbull suggested to the American Philological Association that it comes from an Algonquian word for "counsel", 'cau´-cau-as´u'. The word might also derive from the Algonquian cawaassough, meaning an advisor, talker, or orator.[5] This explanation was favoured by Charles Dudley Warner.[6] The American Heritage Dictionary suggests that it possibly derived from medieval Latin caucus, meaning "drinking vessel",[7] such as might have been used for the flip drunk at Caucus Club of colonial Boston.

An analogical Latin-type plural "cauci" is occasionally used.[8]

In alternative dispute resolution

The term caucus is also used in mediation, facilitation and other forms of alternate dispute resolution to describe circumstances wherein, rather than meeting at a common table, the disputants retreat to a more private setting to process information, agree on negotiation strategy, confer privately with counsel and/or with the mediator, or simply gain "breathing room" after the often emotionally difficult interactions that can occur in the common area where all parties are present.[9] The degree to which caucuses are used can be a key defining element, and often an identifier, of the mediation model being used. For example, "facilitative mediation" tends to discourage the use of caucuses and tries to keep the parties talking at a single table, while "evaluative mediation" may allow parties to separate more often and rely on the mediator to shuttle information and offers back and forth.[10]

In the United States

2008 Wash State Democratic Caucus 15
Precincts from Washington State's 46th Legislative District caucus in a school lunchroom (2008).

In United States politics and government, caucus has several distinct but related meanings. Members of a political party or subgroup may meet to coordinate members' actions, choose group policy, or nominate candidates for various offices.

Caucuses to select election candidates

There is no provision for the role of political parties in the United States Constitution. In the first two presidential elections, the Electoral College handled nominations and elections in 1789 and 1792 which selected George Washington. After that, Congressional party or a state legislature party caucus selected the party's presidential candidates. Nationally, these caucuses were replaced by the party convention starting in 1832 following the lead of the Anti-Masonic Party 1831 convention.[11]

The term caucus is frequently used to discuss the procedures used by some states to select presidential nominees such as the Iowa caucuses, the first of the modern presidential election cycle, and the Texas caucuses.[12] Since 1980 such caucuses have become, in the aggregate, an important component of the nomination process.[13]

Congressional caucuses

Another meaning is a sub grouping of officials with shared affinities or ethnicities who convene, often but not always to advocate, agitate, lobby or to vote collectively, on policy. At the highest level, in Congress and many state legislatures, Democratic and Republican members organize themselves into a caucus (occasionally called a "conference").[14] There can be smaller caucuses in a legislative body, including those that are multi-partisan or even bicameral. Of the many Congressional caucuses, one of the best-known is the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African-American members of Congress. Another prominent example is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, whose members voice and advance issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, including Puerto Rico. In a different vein, the Congressional Internet Caucus is a bipartisan group of Members who wish to promote the growth and advancement of the Internet. Other congressional caucuses such as the Out of Iraq Caucus, are openly organized tendencies or political factions (within the House Democratic Caucus, in this case), and strive to achieve political goals, similar to a European "platform", but generally organized around a single issue.

In Commonwealth nations

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa

The term is used in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. However, when used in these countries, "caucus" is more often a collective term for all members of a party in Parliament, otherwise called a parliamentary group, rather than a word for a regular meeting of these Members of Parliament. Thus, the Australian Federal Parliamentary Labor Party is commonly called "the Labor Caucus".[15]

The word was used in New Zealand from at least the 1890s, when organized political parties began to emerge: the largest of them, the Liberal Party, used it to refer to its parliamentary members.[16] It was introduced to Australia in 1901 by King O'Malley, an American-born Labour member of the first Federal Parliament.

In New Zealand, the term is now used by all political parties,[17] but in Australia, it continues to be used only by the Labor Party. For the Australian Liberal, National and Green parties, the usual equivalent term is "party room". In South Africa all parties use the term "caucus".[18] In Canada, "caucus" refers to all members of a particular party in Parliament, including senators, or a provincial legislature.[19][20] These members elect among themselves a caucus chair who presides over their meetings. This person is an important figure when the party is in opposition and an important link between cabinet and the backbench when the party is in government.

In a Westminster System, a party caucus can be quite powerful, as it can elect or dismiss the party's parliamentary leader. The caucus system is a departure from the Westminster tradition in giving members of the upper house a say in the election of the party leader, who may become head of government. The caucus also determines some matters of policy, parliamentary tactics, and disciplinary measures against disobedient MPs. In some parties, the caucus also has the power to elect MPs to Cabinet when the party is in government. For example, this is traditionally so in the Australian Labor Party and the New Zealand Labour Party.

United Kingdom

Francis Schnadhorst, Vanity Fair, 1892-07-02
"The Caucus": 1892 caricature of Francis Schnadhorst, Secretary of the UK National Liberal Federation, published in Vanity Fair

The term "caucus" is not generally used in contemporary United Kingdom politics, other than as an occasional loose synonym for a political clique or cabal. In the UK and the Republic of Ireland (not a Commonwealth country), the usual term for all members of a party in Parliament is "parliamentary party".

However, the word "caucus" did have wide currency in the UK in the late 19th century, in reference to a highly structured system of management and control within a political party, specifically the Liberal Party. Originally a pejorative term (with overtones of corrupt American practices) used by detractors of the system, the name was soon adopted by the Liberals themselves. The system had originated at a local level in Birmingham in preparation for the 1868 general election, when, under the 1867 Reform Act, the city had been allocated three parliamentary seats, but each elector had only two votes: in order to spread votes evenly, the secretary of the Birmingham Liberal Association, William Harris (later dubbed the "father of the Caucus") devised a four-tier organizational structure (of ward committees, general committee, executive committee, and management committee) through which Liberal voters in different wards could be instructed in the precise combinations in which to cast their votes.[21][22] In 1877 the newly formed National Liberal Federation was given a similar structure, on the initiative of Joseph Chamberlain, and again worked out in detail by Harris.[23] Shortly afterwards the term "caucus" was applied to this system by The Times newspaper, which referred to "the 'caucus' with all its evils", and by the Conservative prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli.[24][25][26][27][28] The Liberal Caucus was also vilified by socialists and trade unionists, who (prior to the establishment of the Independent Labour Party) sought a route to parliamentary representation through the Liberal Party via the Labour Representation League and the Labour Electoral Association, but found their way barred by the party's management structures.[29] Moisey Ostrogorsky devoted some nine chapters of his Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties (1902) to discussion of the development and operation of the "Caucus" in this sense.[30]

In organizations

In conventions, where the membership from different parts of the organization may gather, each separate group within the organization may meet prior to the convention as a caucus.[31] Each caucus may decide how the group would vote on various issues that may come up at the convention.[31] Unless the votes are made binding, however, each delegate is still free to vote in any fashion.[31]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Party CAUCUS: The word and its history". community.middlebury.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  2. ^ "Founders Online: Boston Feby. 1763". founders.archives.gov. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  3. ^ Sylvester, Ellis, Edward; Reed, Thomas Brackett; Wilson, William Lyne; Sherman, John (1896). Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896: Containing the Lives of the Republican and Democratic Candidates for President and Vice-president, Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of All Parties ... Famous Campaigns of the Past, History of Political Parties, Lives of Our Former Presidents, Together with a Full Presentation of the Live Questions of the Day, Including the Tariff, Gold and Silver, Cuba, Armenia, Venezuela, Monroe Doctrine, Etc. International Publishing Company. p. 17.
  4. ^ J.L. Bell, ""Boston 1775: Colonial Boston Vocabulary: 'caucus,' part 2"
  5. ^ Wilson, James (1999). The Earth Shall Weep. New York City, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 104–105. ISBN 0-87113-730-5.
  6. ^ The Story of Pocahontas", Project Gutenberg
  7. ^ "caucus". American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000.
  8. ^ "Cauci? > National Conference of State Legislatures". www.ncsl.org. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  9. ^ "ADR – How to Get Through Your First Mediation and What You Expect". www.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  10. ^ Further details in Julie MacFarlane, Dispute Resolution: Readings and Case Studies, 2003:356-62, excerpts from C. Moore, The Mediation Process, 2nd ed. 1996:319-26
  11. ^ Shafer, Byron E, (1988). "Emergence of the Presidential The Nomination and the Convention". Bifurcated Politics: Evolution and Reform in the National Party Convention. Harvard University Press. p. 11. ISBN 0674072561. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  12. ^ Weigel, David (2016-01-23). "Iowa caucuses: Here's how the voting works". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  13. ^ Redlawsk, David P.; Tolbert, Caroline J.; Donovan, Todd (2011). Why Iowa?: How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226706962.
  14. ^ See, e.g., U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, U.S. House of Representatives Republican Conference; U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus; U.S. Senate Republican Conference; California State Senate Democratic Caucus
  15. ^ "The Establishment Of The Federal Labor Caucus". australianpolitics.com. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  16. ^ "The Liberal Caucus". The Star (4681). 27 June 1893. p. 3. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  17. ^ "Chapter 7 Parties and Government". www.parliament.nz. New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  18. ^ "The ANC Parliamentary Caucus". www.anc.org.za. Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. Archived from the original on 2016-03-09. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  19. ^ "What's a caucus anyway? 3 things to know". www.cbc.ca. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  20. ^ "Parliament of Canada – A Week in the House of Commons". www.lop.parl.gc.ca. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  21. ^ Garvin, J. L. (1932). The Life of Joseph Chamberlain. 1. London: Macmillan. pp. 254–5.
  22. ^ Briggs, Asa (1993). "Birmingham: the making of a Civic Gospel". Victorian Cities (3rd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 184–240 (190–1).
  23. ^ Garvin 1932, pp. 261–2.
  24. ^ "[Leading article]". The Times (28966). 12 June 1877. p. 9. There is to be a sort of Liberal Parliament organized, which, in American language, seems intended to act as a great Liberal 'Caucus'.
  25. ^ Chamberlain, J. (1 July 1877). "A new political organization". Fortnightly Review. n.s. 22 (127): 126–34 (134). ... what the Times calls the new Liberal Caucus ...
  26. ^ "[Leading article]". The Times. 31 July 1878. p. 10. We may say, and say truly, that the policy of the politicians of the Midland capital will bring upon us the 'caucus' with all its evils, but we cannot hope to checkmate it by giving it a bad name. The apologists of the system will tell us that the 'caucus' is a product of the peculiar conditions of life in America, which need not be apprehended in a society of totally different circumstances
  27. ^ Chamberlain, J. (1 August 1878). "Political organization [letter]". The Times. p. 8. I observe that you, in common with the Prime Minister, have adopted the word 'caucus' to designate our organization.
  28. ^ Chamberlain, J. (1 November 1878). "The Caucus". Fortnightly Review. n.s. 24 (143): 721–41 (721). ... the word ["caucus"] chosen by the Prime Minister to describe [the Liberals'] system, and eagerly caught up by lesser critics ... conveys the idea of secrecy and irresponsibility ...
  29. ^ Owen, James (2014). Labour and the Caucus: working-class radicalism and organised Liberalism in England, 1868–1888. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-1-8463-1944-0.
  30. ^ Ostrogorski, M. (1902). Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties. 1. Translated by Clarke, Frederick. London: Macmillan. pp. 161–249, 329–441, 502–529, 580–627.
  31. ^ a b c Robert, Henry M.; et al. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press. pp. 605–6. ISBN 978-0-306-82020-5.

External links

Media related to Caucus at Wikimedia Commons

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The One Hundred Tenth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, between January 3, 2007, and January 3, 2009, during the last two years of the second term of President George W. Bush. It was composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The apportionment of seats in the House was based on the 2000 U.S. Census.

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112th United States Congress

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113th United States Congress

The One Hundred Thirteenth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, from January 3, 2013, to January 3, 2015, during the fifth and sixth years of Barack Obama's presidency. It was composed of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives based on the results of the 2012 Senate elections and the 2012 House elections. The seats in the House were apportioned based on the 2010 United States Census. It first met in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2013, and it ended on January 3, 2015. Senators elected to regular terms in 2008 were in the last two years of those terms during this Congress.

The Senate had a Democratic majority, while the House had a Republican majority. As of 2019, this is the most recent Congress in which Democrats controlled the Senate.

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), founded on May 16, 1994 by former Congressman Norman Mineta, is a bicameral caucus consisting of members of the United States Congress who have a strong interest in promoting Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) issues and advocating the concerns of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. While CAPAC describes itself as non-partisan, all of its current members are Democrats, though some past members, such as Joseph Cao, have been Republicans. This caucus generally includes members of East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian or Pacific Islander descent, members with high concentrations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in their district, or those with an interest in AAPI issues.

Congressional Black Caucus

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is a caucus made up of most African American members of the United States Congress. U.S. Representative Karen Bass from California has chaired the caucus since 2019.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is an organization of 38 Democratic members of the United States Congress of Hispanic descent. The Caucus is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics and Latinos in the United States and Puerto Rico. The CHC was founded in December 1976 as a legislative service organization of the United States House of Representatives.

CHC legislative priorities cover all areas that have a direct impact on the Hispanic or Latino community. In order to best address these diverse issues, members work in smaller task forces that draw on their expertise and develop priority legislation within each area. Today, the CHC is organized as a Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The CHC is currently composed entirely of Democrats, although it had been a bipartisan organization since its founding. The Republican members left in the late 1990s over policy differences and, in 2003, formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. In 2017, the Caucus declined to admit Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who would have been the only Republican member.

Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus

The formation of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus was announced on June 4, 2008, by openly gay representatives Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank. The caucus currently has 110 members (110 Democrats and 0 Republicans) in the 116th United States Congress. The caucus is co-chaired by the United States House of Representatives' eight openly LGBT members: Representatives David Cicilline, Sean Patrick Maloney, Mark Pocan, Mark Takano, Angie Craig, Sharice Davids, Katie Hill, and Chris Pappas.

Congressional caucus

A congressional caucus is a group of members of the United States Congress that meets to pursue common legislative objectives. Formally, caucuses are formed as congressional member organizations (CMOs) through the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate and governed under the rules of these chambers. In addition to the term caucus, they are sometimes called conferences (especially Republican ones), coalitions, study groups, task forces, or working groups. Many other countries use the term parliamentary group—for example, the Parliament of the United Kingdom has many all-party parliamentary groups.

Freedom Caucus

The Freedom Caucus, also known as the House Freedom Caucus, is a congressional caucus consisting of conservative and libertarian Republican members of the United States House of Representatives. It was formed in 2015 by what member Jim Jordan called a "smaller, more cohesive, more agile and more active" group of conservative Congressmen, and is currently chaired by Rep. Mark Meadows.

Many members are also part of the much larger Republican Study Committee. The caucus is sympathetic to the Tea Party movement. The Freedom Caucus is considered the furthest-right grouping within the House Republican Conference. The caucus supports House candidates through its PAC, the House Freedom Fund.

Iowa caucuses

The Iowa caucuses are biennial electoral events in which members of the Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S. state of Iowa. The Iowa caucuses are noteworthy as the first major contest of the United States presidential primary season. Registered voters vote in a per-precinct caucus for the party they are registered as a member.Though the demographics of Iowa are not representative of the rest of the country, the caucuses are still seen as a strong indicator for how a candidate will do in later contests. It can provide candidates with momentum going into the following contests. Candidates who do poorly in their caucus are likely to drop out in the following days.In 2016, the Iowa Democratic and Republican Party precinct caucuses took place on Monday, February 1 with one hour of voting beginning at 7:00pm Central Standard Time. For the first time, results were electronically sent to both Democratic and Republican headquarters.

John Yarmuth

John Allan Yarmuth (born November 4, 1947) is an American politician and former newspaper editor serving as the U.S. Representative for Kentucky's 3rd congressional district since 2007. His district encompasses the vast majority of the Louisville Metro Area. Since 2013, he has been the only Democratic member of Kentucky's congressional delegation.

Yarmuth currently serves as the chairman of the United States House Committee on the Budget, commonly known as the House Budget Committee.

Libertarian Party (United States)

The Libertarian Party (LP) is a political party in the United States that promotes civil liberties, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism and shrinking the size and scope of government. The party was conceived at meetings in the home of David F. Nolan in Westminster, Colorado in 1971 and was officially formed on December 11, 1971 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The founding of the party was prompted in part due to concerns about the Nixon administration, the Vietnam War, conscription and the end of the gold standard.The party generally promotes a classical liberal platform, in contrast to the Democratic Party's modern liberalism and progressivism and the Republican Party's conservatism. Gary Johnson, the party's presidential nominee in 2012 and 2016, states that the Libertarian Party is more culturally liberal than Democrats, and more fiscally conservative than Republicans. Current fiscal policy positions include lowering taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), decreasing the national debt, allowing people to opt out of Social Security and eliminating the welfare state, in part by utilizing private charities. Current cultural policy positions include ending the prohibition of illegal drugs, advocating criminal justice reform, supporting same-sex marriage, ending capital punishment and supporting gun ownership rights. Many Libertarians believe in lowering the drinking age.While it is the third-largest political party in the United States, it currently has no members in Congress or governorships, though it does hold three lower house state legislative seats. There are 511,277 voters (0.46% of total) registered as Libertarian in the 30 states that report Libertarian registration statistics and Washington, D.C. The Libertarian Party was the party under which the first electoral vote was cast for a woman (Tonie Nathan) for Vice President in the 1972 United States presidential election due to a faithless elector.

Liberty Caucus

The House Liberty Caucus is a congressional caucus consisting of conservative, libertarian and libertarian conservative Republican members of the United States House of Representatives. It hosts a bimonthly luncheon in Washington, D.C. The group was founded by Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and joined by Republican members who wanted to "focus on specific issues like economic freedom, individual liberty, and following the Constitution". The caucus has also been characterized as "conservative with a libertarian emphasis" and associated with the Tea Party movement.

Senate Democratic Caucus

The Democratic Caucus of the United States Senate, sometimes referred to as the Democratic Conference, is the formal organization of all senators who are part of the Democratic Party in the United States Senate. For the makeup of the 116th Congress, the conference additionally includes two independent senators (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who formally caucus with the Democrats for the purpose of committee assignments and structural organization, bringing the current total to 47 members. The central organizational front for Democrats in the senate, its primary function is communicating the party's message to all of its members under a single banner.

United States House of Representatives Democratic Caucus

The House Democratic Caucus nominates and elects the Democratic Party leadership in the United States House of Representatives. The group is composed of all Democratic Representatives in the House. In its roles as a party conference, the caucus writes and enforces rules of conduct and discipline for its members, approves committee assignments, and serves as the primary forum for development of party policy and legislative priorities. It hosts weekly meetings for these purposes and to communicate the party's message to members. The caucus has a Caucus Chairman and Caucus Vice-Chair (formerly called the Secretary).

For the 116th Congress, which began in 2019, Hakeem Jeffries of New York serves as Chair, with Katherine Clark of Massachusetts as Vice-Chair.

United States House of Representatives Republican Conference

The House Republican Conference is the party caucus for Republicans in the United States House of Representatives. It hosts meetings and is the primary forum for communicating the party's message to members. The Conference produces a daily publication of political analysis under the title Legislative Digest.

The conference has a chair who directs day-to-day operations and who is assisted by an elected vice-chair and a secretary. The current chair is Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who assumed the position in 2019. In the 112th Congress, the chair was Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Vice Chair was Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, and Secretary was John Carter of Texas. For the 113th Congress (2013–2015), the party elected Cathy McMorris Rodgers as the Chair after a tough fight with conservative Tom Price of Georgia. They also elected Lynn Jenkins of Kansas to the position of Vice Chair and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina to the position of Secretary.Former chairs include Gerald Ford, John Boehner, Mike Pence, John B. Anderson, Dick Cheney, Jack Kemp, J. C. Watts, Deborah D. Pryce, and Adam Putnam.

United States presidential primary

The presidential primary elections and caucuses held in the various states, the District of Columbia, and territories of the United States form part of the nominating process of candidates for United States presidential elections. The United States Constitution has never specified the process; political parties have developed their own procedures over time. Some states hold only primary elections, some hold only caucuses, and others use a combination of both. These primaries and caucuses are staggered, generally beginning sometime in January or February, and ending about mid-June before the general election in November. State and local governments run the primary elections, 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 the number of delegates each party's national convention will receive from their respective state. These delegates then in turn select their party's presidential nominee. The first state in the United States to hold its presidential primary was New Hampshire in 1920.

Each party determines how many delegates it allocates to each state. Along with those "pledged" delegates chosen during the primaries and caucuses, state delegations to both the Democratic and Republican conventions also include "unpledged" delegates who have a vote. For Republicans, they consist of the three top party officials who serve At Large from each state and territory. Democrats have a more expansive group of unpledged delegates called "superdelegates", who are party leaders and elected officials (PLEO). If no single candidate has secured an absolute majority of delegates (including both pledged and unpledged), then a "brokered convention" occurs: all pledged delegates are "released" after the first round of voting and are able to switch their allegiance to a different candidate, and then additional rounds take place until there is a winner with an absolute majority.

The staggered nature of the presidential primary season allows candidates to concentrate their resources in each area of the country one at a time instead of campaigning in every state simultaneously. In some of the less populous states, this allows campaigning to take place on a much more personal scale. However, the overall results of the primary season may not be representative of the U.S. electorate as a whole: voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other less populous states which traditionally hold their primaries and caucuses in late-January/February usually have a major impact on the races, while voters in California and other large states which traditionally hold their primaries 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, known as "front-loading", to claim a greater influence in the process. The national parties have used penalties and awarded bonus delegates in efforts to stagger the system over broadly a 90-day window. Where state legislatures set the primary or caucus date, sometimes the out-party in that state has endured penalties in the number of delegates it can send to the national convention.

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