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Understanding American Politics: A Beginners Guide To Primaries

Updated on September 23, 2011

Iowa, New Hampshire, And Everything In Between

With campaign season getting fired up, Americans are going to start hearing more and more about "the primaries". Now while for some of us, this means a good 14 - 15 months of solid political content to feast upon, for most Americans, it's a, somewhat ridiculous, process that involves candidates bouncing all over the country, sometimes hitting as many as 10 states in a day, trying to get win a nomination. And what, you may ask, is their reward for winning? They get to do it all over again, this time, in the general election.

For those of you who have always wondered about these things, relax, because today, I'm going to teach you everything you need to know about my favorite season: Primary Season.

So, What Is A Primary?

Basically, it breaks down like this: every four years, we elect a President. Now usually, this President comes from either the Republican or Democratic parties (and for those of you who are wondering, Millard Fillmore, 1850 - Whig party).

Now since the Constitution only sets the rules on the eligibility of Presidential Candidates, and not how these candidates are selected, the process of selection is determined by each candidates party. Let me break it down for you this way: the constitution says who can run, the party decides who actually runs.

So, to select a candidate, each party has a series of State Primaries. Primaries are party specific (meaning only Democrats can vote in the Democratic Primary, same for Republicans), and are used to determine the amount of "delegates" (a political term for people who vote at the conventions) for each candidate.

When Is A Primary Not A Primary? When It's A Caucus.

Now while most people have a basic understanding of primaries, few understand the living cluster fu- sorry, I'm getting off on a rant here. Most people don't really understand the difference between a "primary" and a "caucus", so allow me to explain (see, nice and calm).

Whereas a primary is a traditional "go-to-the-ballots-and-cast-your-vote" style election of delegates, a caucus is little more than a "public get together" where people meet in small, local groups, and elect delegates to go to a city or county caucus. From there, they elect people to go to a district, then regional, then state-wide caucus, where finally, they elect there delegates for the convention.

Now that you have a general understanding of how a caucus works, let's move on. I'll spare you the mind numbing intricacies of caucus procedure (trust me, you don't want to go there).

Look, Up In The Sky! It's A Bird! It's A Plane! No, It's Super-Tuesday!

So, we've all heard the term "Super Tuesday". So what is it? Simple, it's a Tuesday, early in the primary season, that has a bunch (sometimes over 20) of Primaries/Caucuses in one day, all across the country.

In 2012, Super Tuesday will be on March 6th, and will have 9 full primaries (meaning that both parties are having their primaries on the same day in that state) and 2 party specific caucuses. While the upcoming Super Tuesday may not exactly live up to it's name, it's still going to be a big day for the candidates, looking to shore up support (and money) before heading into the summer campaign season.

Iowa And New Hampshire... Really?

Now dear readers, I try to keep my personal feelings out of my writing for work... but this isn't for work, so here goes. As it stands now, Iowa and New Hampshire hold a ridiculous amount of sway in our National Politics. Having spent a great deal of time in both of these states over the years, I can tell you that, while individually the people are nice, as a collective group, they are some of the most backwards-ass people in the lower 48.

I can't speak for you (nor would I ever try to), but when I think of social and racial tolerance, New Hampshire and Iowa aren't really the first two states that come to mind (I'm not sayin... I'm just sayin). Combined, these two states have a combined population of close to 4.5 million (according to the 2010 U.S. Census), to put that in perspective, there are more people in Miami than there are in these two states combined.

So why is this such a problem (and why do I dislike these two states so much)? Because the results of these two events can have an undeserving dramatic impact on national politics. Candidates who do poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, usually aren't around long enough to make it to the end of January when several other states (a much more diverse cross section of the country might I add) have their primaries.

I have still yet to meet a single person, from either Iowa or New Hampshire, that can give me a logical, valid reason why either of these states should have the first primary/caucus, and the political power that come with it. If anyone from these states would like to offer an explanation, feel free to do so in the comments below.

Thankfully, both major parties are taking steps to reschedule the primaries to be more representative of the country as a whole, and not a reflection of the couple of states that no one (hardly even the people that live there) else cares about the other 3 years and 9 months between elections.


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