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CNN Student News One-Sheet: Caucuses and Primaries

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(CNN Student News) -- Use this explainer to help your students understand caucuses and primaries.


Political parties formally nominate their candidates for president at their national party conventions. Elected and designated delegates choose their party's nominee and represent the preferences of the party members in their state at the national conventions. Under the present system for choosing presidential nominees, political parties in each state use two main methods for providing party members with a voice in the nomination process: the primary or the caucus.


• Voters use a secret ballot to select delegates.

• In an open primary, registered voters, regardless of their party affiliation, can vote in any party primary they choose.

• In a closed primary, voters must declare a party affiliation and can only vote in that primary.

• Over 40 states and territories and the District of Columbia use primaries.


• Party members and party leaders meet to select delegates and usually must demonstrate their support for a presidential candidate by public declaration.

• Caucuses are often used in combination with a state convention to elect delegates to the national convention.

• Fifteen states and territories use caucuses.

Delegate Selection

Party members in each state select delegates to go to the national conventions to represent their choices for presidential candidates. The political parties handle delegate selection rules differently.

The Democratic Party sets delegate rules for all states. There are two types of Democratic Party delegates:

• Pledged delegates are elected to the position with the understanding that he or she will initially support a particular presidential candidate at the national convention.

• "Superdelegates" are Democratic National Committee members and Democratic members of Congress, governors and other distinguished party leaders (former presidents, vice presidents, congressional leaders, etc.) who may select any candidate.

The Republican Party allows different states to pick their delegates in different ways:

• Each state has rules that determine whether elected delegates are pledged or unpledged.

• Every Republican national committeeman, national committeewoman and state party chair automatically becomes a national convention delegate.

• Five U.S. territories, 35 states and the District of Columbia automatically designate Republican National Committee members as unpledged delegates.

• There are no "superdelegates"; Republican Party members holding national and state offices do not become delegates automatically.

In both parties, the candidate who obtains a majority of delegate votes at that party's convention receives the party's nomination.

Selecting the Dates for State Primaries and Caucuses

In states that hold primaries, the state legislatures select the dates. In states that hold caucuses, the state's political parties usually determine the dates.

Iowa and New Hampshire

You often hear more about the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary than the nominating contests in other states. That is because they are first, held this year in early January. Most states will hold their contests in February, and others will hold them as late as June. The results of early primaries and caucuses tend to influence those held later by narrowing down the candidate field and lending momentum to top candidates, momentum the party hopes will build into November. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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