In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Primaries and Caucuses


This was the vote for the 2012 Republican nomination. (Edited: Wikimedia Commons)

The two main parties in the United States are currently holding their primaries and caucuses to determine who should be the Republican and Democrat nominees. After the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Senator Hillary Clinton leads the Democrat nomination, and billionaire businessman Donald Trump is ahead for the Republicans. This is despite Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democrat party nomination, winning over 60% of the overall vote in New Hampshire [1].


(Video: CNN)


The choice of the nominee is made at each party’s national convention, with the candidate who obtained the highest number of delegates being granted the nomination [2]. A primary election is run by state and local governments, with rules around elections applying to the vote. Alternately, a caucus is run by the political parties themselves, and typically involves voters attending private events, casting their choice. In either primaries or caucuses, the parties involved determine the electoral franchise.

Almost all states have a binding primary or caucus, meaning that the results of the election legally bind delegates to vote for particular candidates at the party’s national convention. There are also ‘super-delegates’, or unpledged delegates, who are not constrained by any primary or caucus. These super-delegates are typically party leaders and elected officials.


(Source: AP/BBC)

Primary types and delegate distribution

There are three types of primaries: closed, semi-closed and open. In a closed primary, only registered voters for that party may vote for their preferred nominee. In semi-closed primaries, the franchise is extended to include voters who are not affiliated with any party. In open primaries, any voter may submit their ballot for the presidential candicacy.

There are two systems for distributing delegates too: winner-takes-all and proportional. As the name suggests, all of the delegates are allocated to the winning candidate under the winner-takes-all system. In the proportional system, candidates are allocated delegates based on the proportion of their total votes, typically once a vote share threshold has been reached.

After the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire Primary, there are caucuses in Nevada and primaries in South Carolina, before ‘Super Tuesday’ on March 1st, where thirteen states vote to select their nominees. At present, the triumphs of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump suggest a strong dissatisfaction with mainstream candidates and policies in both parties. These initial votes help to strip down the field of possible nominees, rather than determining the final victor.

The question remains as to whether this nascent revolution will persist into later rounds.


[1] BBC, 2016. US election: New Hampshire primary results. Available from: [Accessed: 10th February 2016]

[2] BBC, 2016. US election 2016: Primaries, Caucuses and Delegates. Available from: [Accessed: 10th February 2016]



This entry was posted on February 11, 2016 by in American Politics and tagged , , .
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