January 9, 2008

STL Goes to Washington: The primary process

Posted in Politics tagged , , , , at 12:55 pm by Lindsay

Now that primary season is well under way, we’re kicking off a series called “Save the Lobsters Goes to Washington” where along with the political commentary we’ve been dabbling in, we’ll take a closer look at some of the practices and institutions of our electoral process.  A catch-up of sorts for all those things you’ve forgotten from civics class.  We believe that the good voter is the informed voter. 

As I was discussing the results of last night’s New Hampshire primary with my sister, we realized how little we actually know about the primary election process.  What’s the difference between a caucus and a primary?  Who are the delegates and how are they chosen?  What’s a superdelegate?  First, we have to remember that elections are facilitated by the individual states, and therefore, different states have different rules about how presidential candidates are selected. 

Caucus vs. Primary

A caucus can be thought of as a big group meeting for members of the same political party.  Issues and candidates are openly discussed and debated, after which attendees express their choice of candidate.  In Iowa, caucus-goers stand in the corner of the room which represents their candidate.  Other caucuses allow attendees to choose by secret ballot. 

In contrast, a primary is similar to the general election where voters simply cast a ballot for the candidate they support.  Primaries may be open, (where voters can vote for either a Republican OR a Democratic candidate) closed, (where voters can vote for a candidate only from the party they’re registered as), or blanket (where voters can vote for a candidate from each party).

Delegate This!

Delegates are people chosen to represent their state at the party’s national convention.  In most Democratic primaries, candidates win a percentage of that state’s delegates based on the percentage of votes they won from the voters.  In Republican primaries, delegates are usually awarded on the “Winner Take All” principal, where the winner of the primary receives all of that state’s delegates, no matter what percentage of votes they garnered. 

Superdelegates are usually party officials or members that act as delegates during the national convention, but do NOT have to support the candidate that won their state’s primary.  Superdelegates from Iowa do not have to support Obama and superdelegates from New Hampshire do not have to support Clinton.  Regular delegates far outnumber superdelegates.   

I’m often puzzled by our electoral system, so hopefully we can continue to shed light on the murkier parts of our democratic process.  Anyone else is welcome to contribute whatever insight or knowledge you might have!  Also, if you have any topics or questions you’ve always wondered about, let us know and we’ll try to address them. 

For my research, I consulted this article from BBC News:


and this one from CNN:


Happy Polling!




  1. Pullman said,

    The election process is so screwy. Why can’t we just do away with the electoral college and all these silly rules.

  2. […] in our STL goes to Washington post about delegates, we explained how superdelegates aren’t attached to any state’s results […]

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