Caucus vs. Primary

Caucus vs. Primary

Patrick Russell

On March 1st, Georgia voters will flock to the polls to pick their favorite presidential candidate. They’ll be participating in Georgia’s first presidential primary since 2012.

But what exactly is a primary? And how does a primary differ from a Caucus? You may know that Ted Cruz won the Republican Iowa caucus, and that Trump won the New Hampshire primaries, but the difference between the two voting styles may surprise you.


Caucuses are an old voting system developed in 1796. Since then, states have gradually switched to the less complicated “Primary” system. Only 13 caucus states remain, including the early voting states of Iowa and Nevada.The Democratic and Republican party hold their own caucuses in each state, and for convenience the parties will usually schedule their caucuses on the same day.

Caucuses are unique because they allow participants to openly show support for candidates.

In the Iowa Democratic caucus, representatives from each candidate talk to the audience of voters, who then gather in groups based on candidate and try to convince other people to join their group. If one group is too small, the group is eliminated and supporters of such group have to join other groups.                                  

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In this case, Martin O’Malley’s group would be eliminated because it’s too small and the two O’Malley supporters would be forced to join either Clinton or Sanders

Depending on the caucus, a certain number of groups will remain per county and the results are sent to the state level, where the state will determine the caucus winner after receiving voting results of every county. The winner of the caucus will be awarded a certain number of delegates to vote for them at the national party convention.

Caucuses are not always like that, and there are many variations of the laws regarding them. However, the format explained above is the most common form of voting for a caucus state.

Still unsure about how Iowa Democratic caucuses work? Click here 


Primaries are a much simpler and more efficient way of voting that was developed by state governments in the early 1900s. This is different to caucuses in that primaries are organized by the state governments and caucuses are organized by the political party. The primary system was first used by Florida and now is used by 37 states and counting.

Georgia primaries are held on March 1st. Voters will go to their designated voting location (Usually a church or school) and vote for a candidate of their choice. In a primary, voters will cast a secret ballot , which is very different to the open voting process of caucuses. The results of the secret ballot will decide the number of delegates sent to the party’s national convention.

There are 4 different types of presidential primaries, and the type of primary changes the way you vote.

Open Primary: You can vote for anyone you want despite previous political affiliation. 

  • Ex. If you voted for Obama (D) in 2012 you can vote for Trump (R) in 2016

Closed Primary: Must vote for your registered party

  • Ex. If you voted for Obama in 2012, you must vote for the Democratic party in 2016.

Semi-Open Primary: Same as Open Primary but must declare affiliated party before voting. This way the voter is given a party specific ballot

  • Ex. If you voted for Obama in 2012, but want to vote Trump in 2016, just tell the voting booth people and they will give you a party specific ballot

Semi-closed Primary: Have to vote for your registered party unless you are a registered independent.

  • Ex. If you voted for Obama in 2012, but since then you’ve become a registered Independent, than you can vote for anyone you want.