From January to June 2004,
states across the nation will hold their first round of elections, either a primary
or a caucus to nominate delegates who will represent their candidate at the national
caucus was the original method for selecting candidates, it is
now the least popular, with only 14 states and Washington, D.C.,
participating in them. The other 36 states hold primaries.
both select delegates, the process of the caucus and primary are radically different.
The caucus requires voters to show up at polling locations where they will listen
to speeches and debates sometimes lasting for hours. Voters participating in a
primary must go to a polling place and cast a ballot.
caucus marks the beginning of the primary season. As the first
election of the primary season, candidates concentrate on gaining
support in Iowa, creating a huge media buzz leading
up to the vote, which in 2004 occurs on Jan. 19.
in a caucus requires more time than a primary. In Iowa, caucus participants will
gather in high schools, living rooms and town halls across the state, and citizens
will deliver speeches on behalf of candidates. An informal vote count will then
there, the process continues at the state level: at a statewide convention, Iowa's
delegates are chosen for the national convention.
additional time commitment is the caucus's major drawback; consequently, there
is less participation in caucuses than in primaries. The Iowa caucus will typically
attract 100,000 participants.
caucus, however, encourages more intense voter participation in the nominating
process than does a primary.
adopted the primary in 1904 as a way to choose delegates, and
within a decade many states followed suit. But it was not until
1969, when -- in an attempt to increase citizen participation
-- the McGovern-Fraser Commission evaluated the process used to
select delegates, that the primary won the popularity it enjoys
changes made to the system led many states to switch to the primary, because more
citizens were able to make the choice for delegates, rather than the state officials
who had traditionally voted.
a primary, as in a caucus, voters elect delegates who support their candidate
choice, but the vote is taken by ballot and the process is similar to a general
election. New Hampshire hosts the nation's first primary, held in 2004 on Jan.
27. The New Hampshire primary typically attracts 300,000 voters.
for primaries and caucuses vary by state. Each state party uses
its own rules for delegate selection, but those rules are subject
to approval from the Republican National Committee or the Democratic
National Committee and the state's election law. Usually, the
state's legislature decides on the date and format for the primary
By Sheryl Silverman, Online NewsHour