Caucus versus Primary

A primary voter from 2008.

While many voters have told NewsChannel 15 they have begun to pay attention to the race, or have been paying attention for some time, when asked the difference between the Iowa Caucus and South Carolina's Primary, most drew a blank.

"Sorry I don't, but I know that they're important," Marilyn Leach of Myrtle Beach said.

We went to Francis Marion University Political Science Chair David White, Ph.D., for a quick lesson.

"It might be a longer road to who is going to win the nomination this year," White says.

In presidential campaigns, a caucus is a system of local gatherings where voters decide which candidate to support, and select delegates for nominating conventions. There are 1774 precincts where groups caucus in Iowa. Iowa has 25 delegates up for grabs this year, but White says the delegates are decided later down the line. Caucuses are unique in that they allow participants to openly show support for candidates.

A primary, like the one in South Carolina, is a statewide voting process in which voters cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates.

In Iowa, only registered voters can participate in a caucus, and they are limited to the caucus of the party with which they are affiliated. If someone is registered as a Democrat, though, they can show up to a Republican caucus and switch their affiliation.

Primaries are a direct, statewide process of selecting candidates and delegates. Primaries come in two basic forms: In an open primary, all registered voters can vote for any candidate, regardless of their political affiliation. Registered Democrats may vote for a Republican candidate, and Republican voters may cast ballots for a Democrat, for instance. And registered Independents can participate in either party's primary. But in a closed primary, voters may vote only for candidates of the party with which they are registered. South Carolina is an open primary.

Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming and Iowa are the only states to rely solely on the caucus, according to the Federal Election Commission. The territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands use the caucus also. All other states and Puerto Rico use primary elections or a combination of the voting formats.