Caucuses or primaries? How the early stages of US presidential elections work

Elizabeth Smith

As mandated by the U.S. electoral system, both the Republican and Democratic parties will conduct primary elections in the first half of 2024 across over 50 states and territories of the United States to select their presidential candidates.

This is a rather extensive process, commencing on January 15th and officially concluding between July and August, coinciding with the large national conventions where the parties will formally announce their candidates.

How the American primaries system works

Based on the votes received in the primaries across various states, each candidate is allocated a specific number of delegates. These delegates, in turn, will determine the winner during the summer conventions.

The method of delegate allocation for the Republican party varies from state to state. While the Democrats consistently follow the proportional method. Regardless, the role of delegates is more of a formality, and the presidential candidates for the respective parties typically become apparent well before the summer conventions.

Voting can occur through two methods: actual primaries or caucuses. Primaries are the more prevalent method, chosen by approximately 40 out of 50 states. In primaries, voters visit their assigned polling stations, receive a ballot, cast their votes for their preferred candidate, and return the ballot to election officials. Alternatively, postal voting is an option.

What are caucuses and how they differ from primaries

On the other hand, about ten states will organize caucuses. Apart from Iowa, these will also be held in Idaho and Wyoming for both parties, and in Nevada, Missouri, North Dakota, Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii for the Republican party only (Democrats will conduct primaries).

Caucuses involve small debates concurrently organized in various precincts of a state, during which voters engage in small rallies to persuade participants to support their candidate.

Regarding the Republicans, only voters of age by November 5th and registered with the party can participate in the caucuses this year. These meetings take place in public or private venues such as gyms, bars, or schools, usually lasting a few hours. After speeches and potential participation in the debate, voters cast secret ballots by writing the name of their chosen candidate on a piece of paper.

Unlike primaries, voting by post or absentee voting is not anticipated for caucuses. Only voters physically participating in the event and dedicating a few hours to the political process will have the opportunity to vote. Thus making it a more demanding system that favors engaged and motivated voters.

The candidates in the 2024 US primary elections

The number of candidates in the 2024 US primary elections is dwindling among both the Democrats and the Republicans, with a clear prevalence for the GOP.

In the Democrats, there are three candidates who have made their presence official in the primaries.

  • Joe Biden
  • Marianne Williamson
  • Dean Phillips

However, the field of aspiring Republican presidential candidates is more crowded.

  • Donald Trump
  • Ron DeSantis
  • Nikki Haley
  • Asa Hutchinson

Vivek Ramaswamy, after running in the Iowa GOP primaries, winning 3 delegates, withdrew from the primaries endorsing Donald Trump.

Read also: The challenge for the White House starts: all the stages of the 2024 electoral calendar

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