With the US presidential election a mere nine weeks away, I’ve been following the media coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions like any good American expat would. Even if I do have to find out about it the next morning, thanks to the five-hour time difference.
Anyway, I got to thinking about the political terminology we hear on rotation, every four years.
What is a caucus, anyway?
The Oxford dictionaries blog describes a caucus as “a local meeting at which party members express their preference for the party’s presidential nominee.
“Unlike a primary election, a caucus is run by the party itself, not the state or local government. The most famous caucus is Iowa’s, which is the first major electoral event of the nominating process. Other early states which use a caucus system are Nevada, Maine, Colorado, and Minnesota.”
TheCapitol.net says it’s also the name of an informal organisation of members of the House and Senate, or both, that discusses “issues of mutual concern” and can perform legislative research and policy planning for its members.
So where does it come from?
William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College, suggests that the word dates back to the first American settlers:
“There is a curious linguistic thread connected with this word which goes back to Capt. John Smith who had emigrated to the colony of Virginia in l607, and his book The General History of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles, was published in l624, where he mentions a native Algonquin word ‘Caw-cawaassough’ as one who advises, a counsellor.”
Nearly 150 years later, John Adams used the word to describe a political pow-wow in 1763. He wrote in his diary:
“This day learned that the caucus club meets, at certain times, in the garret of Tom Dawes.”
All this talk of elections reminds me – I need to sort out my absentee ballot. Like, now.