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US election word of the week: caucus

 © PhotoDiscIn this new series we will be looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the runup to the Presidential election in late 2016. First off, caucus.

On Monday 1st February, registered Republican and Democrat voters gathered in schools, libraries and even private homes across the state of Iowa to have their say in their parties’ choice of candidate for the upcoming presidential election, a process known as the Iowa caucuses.



Macmillan Dictionary has two senses for caucus. The one that interests us here is the second:

a meeting in some US states of members of a political party to choose who will represent the party in the election for President

Iowa is always the first state to engage in this process, giving it a degree of influence that outweighs its small size and mostly rural population. The Republicans and Democrats run their processes in different ways, but by the end of the night both sides will have identified the person who is, for the time being, the frontrunner in the race to be the next POTUS.

Caucus looks at first as though it might have Latin roots, but in fact its origins are obscure. It was first used in the US in the 18th century and may come from one of the Algonquian languages.

Look out for the next post in this series. In the meantime you can refresh your knowledge of American politics and political language by reading past posts on the subject here and here.

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Liz Potter

1 Comment

  • A lot of people’s first encounter with this word must be in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, where a bemused Alice participates in a ‘caucus race’, which may or may not be a satire on the futility of politics:

    `What I was going to say,’ said the Dodo in an offended tone, `was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.’

    `What IS a Caucus-race?’ said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that SOMEBODY ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

    `Why,’ said the Dodo, `the best way to explain it is to do it.’ (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

    First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out `The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, `But who has won?’

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