What Is a Caucus and How Does It Work?

Caucuses in Mediation and Political Situations

What is a Caucus
Caucuses in Mediation and Politics. Omar DAngel/Getty Images

What is a Caucus?

A caucus is a meeting of members of a group or subgroup to discuss issues and make decisions. "To caucus" (verb) means the process of meeting to discuss issues and come to a decision.

Caucuses can occur in many different contexts. The most common use of the word caucus comes in two different areas: 

  • In the mediation process
  • In the political process 

Caucuses in Mediation

In mediation, the two parties to a dispute get together with a mediator to try to work out an agreement on their differences.

 In the mediation process, a caucus is a confidential meeting of members of one side of a dispute, usually with the mediator. 

As the mediation process begins, all parties meet as a group with the mediator, then they go to separate rooms to discuss the issue, in caucuses. The mediator goes back and forth between the two caucusing parties, hoping to bring them together. 

Mediators use caucuses in divorce mediation for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a caucus can give one party an opportunity to "sound off" without alienating the other side. At other times they may be a way to test alternative solutions to each side separately, or to offer negotiating advice to one side or the other. 

Caucuses in the Political Process

A caucus in the political sense is also a discussion by a group. In this case, the group makes decisions on candidates or issues. Political caucuses have been used to select delegates.

 

The two political parties caucus very differently. In the 2016 Iowa caucuses, as noted by Fox News, supporters of candidates may campaign and make speeches before balloting. The process for the Democratic party is more complicated. 

 The word "caucus" supposedly comes from an Algonquin word for "gathering of tribal chiefs," and this definition seems most appropriate for the political caucus process.

 

 

You may have heard of the "Iowa Caucuses," which are held early in the year of a presidential election. In this particular caucus process, groups of Democrats and Republicans in precincts in Iowa meet to discuss the possible candidates for U.S. president and to elect delegates who support these candidates. 

Straw Polls in Caucuses

In any kind of caucus, the group may take a "straw poll," to attempt to determine the wishes of a group. The straw poll is unofficial, to see which way the wind is blowing. 

A Jury as a Caucus

A jury in the judicial system can be seen as a form of caucus. The jury is a group that gets together to try to agree on a verdict in a lawsuit. After some conversation, the jury can take a number of straw polls to determine if a verdict has been reached. 

Another Kind of Political Caucus

Within the U.S. political system, there is another kind of caucus. In this case, the word "caucus" is used to describe a group with shared ethnicity or viewpoints within a political party. For example, the National  Women's Political Caucus, founded by Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in the 1970s. 

This video explains more about how a political caucus works.