Guide to US caucuses and primaries

2012-01-03 17:32

Washington - The US presidential and legislative elections will be held on November 6, 2012. But they will be preceded by a months-long process - starting with Iowa's caucus on Tuesday - during which Republicans will pick a candidate to take on Democratic President Barack Obama.

Here is a guide to caucuses and primaries - a system virtually unique in the world. Only Republicans will be picking a candidate this time, with Obama expected to be nominated unchallenged as the Democratic Party's candidate.

- CAUCUS: used in about a dozen states when in simple gatherings supporters from each party usually meet to decide their delegates to the national party convention and who they will vote for on the party's final ticket.

Voters gather at schools, fire stations, and other public buildings, and divide themselves into groups around each candidate. Those who are undecided are then "courted" by the other groups.

At the end of the process, party officials count the number of voters in each candidate's group and then decide how many delegates to the convention each has won.

In 2008, Obama won over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Mike Huckabee took the honour for the Republicans, but was later defeated for the Republican nomination by veteran Senator John McCain.

The Iowa caucus sets the whole election calendar in motion, and will be held on January 3. It acquired its importance in the 1970s when the contest began to draw an army of television cameras, but it matters less for who is chosen and more as a way of gauging support for the various candidates.

Open or closed

- PRIMARY: Primary elections feature secret ballot voting, similar to that on election day. Most states hold primaries to select their delegates to the party convention and which candidate they should back.

New Hampshire generally holds the nation's first primary, and it is expected to be held on January 10 2012. It is an asset that gives the tiny northeastern state vast influence on the overall electoral process.

A primary may be open or closed. In the first instance, voting is not restricted by party membership, so registered Democratic voters could vote in the Republican primary, while in the second, only registered party members may cast ballots.

Florida this time has squeezed the election timetable by announcing it will hold its primary on January 31, meaning a Republican frontrunner could emerge early.

Super Tuesday on March 6 could prove a decisive day when primaries are due to be organised in 10 states. The final primaries are due to held in June 2012.

Read more on:    us  |  us elections 2012

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Zuma: Pray for peaceful polls

President Jacob Zuma has asked members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to pray for peaceful elections on 7 May.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Friday Grabouw - 11:32 AM
    Road name: N2 Eastbound
    DELAYS between Sir Lowrys Pass and Grabouw
  • Friday Cape Town - 10:14 AM
    Road name: M3 Inbound
    EVENT - left lane closed between Rhodes Avenue and UCT
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900

The Blackberry Bold Touch 9900 is as the name says...

From R3565.00

I'm shopping for:


You may find yourself putting in that extra effort on looking good and making an impression. more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.