US Presidential election: words, terms and phrases meaning and definitions - including caucus and primary

All the lingo you need to know
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Donald Trump's big win in the Iowa caucuses strengthens the former president's relationship with his party’s voters (despite his legal troubles which may make it more difficult for him to win the presidency again), and kicked off the 2024 US Presidential election in a big way.

But what exactly is a 'caucus'? Come to think of it, what's a 'primary'? And what does the 'electoral college' mean?

Here are all the terms you need to know for the next few months. We'll be adding more as and when they come up, so be sure to check back regularly if you ever find yourself stumped.

Caucus

A caucus is a meeting of members of a political party to select candidates, discuss policies and conduct other party business.

The caucus system is used in some states as a method for voters to participate in the candidate selection process for presidential nominations, as well as for other political offices.

During a caucus, party members gather at a specific time and location, and they engage in discussions, make speeches and ultimately cast votes to determine their preferred candidate.

In British politics, there is no direct equivalent to the caucus system. The UK primarily uses a system of party primaries for internal candidate selection, and general elections are conducted through a first-past-the-post voting system.

Party members may have the opportunity to participate in candidate selection through local party meetings or internal party processes, but it is not a widespread or standardised practice like the caucus system in the US.

Delegates

Delegates are individuals selected to represent their state or territory at a political party's national convention. These delegates play a crucial role in the nomination process for the party's candidates, particularly for the offices of President and Vice President.

The number of delegates allocated to each state or territory is determined by party rules and is usually based on factors such as the state's population and its historical support for the party.

Delegates attend their party's national convention, where they formally cast votes to nominate the party's candidate for President. The delegates also participate in the nomination of the Vice Presidential candidate.

In British politics, there is no direct equivalent to the delegate system. Instead, British political parties use different methods, such as candidate selections by local party members, party committees or the party leader's involvement in the selection process.

Voters cast their ballots (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)Voters cast their ballots (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Voters cast their ballots (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Electoral College

The Electoral College is a unique system used in the US. Instead of a direct popular vote determining the winner, the Electoral College is a group of electors chosen by each state and the District of Columbia, equal to the total number of its Senators and Representatives in Congress.

Each state is allocated a certain number of electors based on its total representation in Congress (Senators + Representatives). For example, California, the most populous state, has 55 electors, while smaller states have fewer.

Most states use a winner-takes-all system, where the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state receives all of its electoral votes. To win the presidency, a candidate must secure a majority of electoral votes, which is currently 270 out of 538.

It's important to note that the Electoral College can lead to a situation where a candidate who doesn't win the most popular votes nationwide can still win the election if they have more electoral votes. This has happened a few times in US history.

National Convention

A national convention is a major event held by each political party every four years to officially nominate their candidates for the offices of President and Vice President.

These conventions mark the culmination of the primary and caucus season, during which delegates are selected to represent the party at the convention.

The conventions are also platforms for parties to adopt their official party platform, showcase prominent speakers and generate enthusiasm for the upcoming general election.

The closest comparison in British politics might be the annual party conferences where members gather to discuss policy, showcase party achievements and hear speeches from party leaders.

However, these conferences do not typically involve the formal nomination of party leaders for general elections, as the party leader is usually in place well before the election is called.

PAC

PAC stands for "Political Action Committee," and is a type of organisation that is formed to raise and spend money to support or oppose political candidates, initiatives or legislation.

PACs are a key part of the US campaign finance system and play a role in influencing elections and public policy, and can be formed by corporations, labour unions, trade associations, or groups of individuals who share a common interest or goal.

PACs raise funds from their members, employees, or supporters and then contribute money to political candidates or campaigns. There are limits on how much money an individual can donate to a PAC, and PACs are also subject to contribution limits when donating to candidates.

The UK has its own set of rules and regulations regarding political financing, and political donations are typically made directly to political parties rather than through separate PAC-like entities.

Primary

The caucus system is not uniform across all states, and some states use primary elections instead. Primary elections involve voters casting secret ballots to select their preferred candidate, and the results are used to allocate delegates to the party's national convention.

There are two main types of primaries. In Closed Primaries, only registered members of a specific political party can participate in the primary election of that party. For example, only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary, and only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary.

In Open Primaries, voters can participate in the primary election of any political party, regardless of their own party affiliation. In an open primary, individuals can choose which party's primary they want to vote in on the day of the election.

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