As our country prepares for a presidential election, each state determines the process through which it will select delegates to send to the National Conventions. Each state’s political party committee establishes the rules by which the delegates will be selected. The rules and processes may change over time; however, the two systems in which voters primarily participate are the primary and caucus. Voters attend primaries and caucuses to select delegates to represent their state at their party’s convention. Delegates attend the conventions and cast their votes to determine their party’s candidate for President of the United States.
- Students will examine the caucus and primary systems of selecting delegates
- Students will discuss the processes involved in the two systems
- Students will determine the pros and cons for each system
- Internet to view videos
- Primary and Caucus handout (.PDF)
- Pledged Delegates
- Unpledged Super Delegates
- Absentee Ballot
- Closed Primary
- Open Primary
- Independent Candidate
- General Election
- Front Loading
Amendment 10 - Powers of the States and People. Ratified 12/15/1791
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The Tenth Amendment provides states with the right to determine the system in which they select delegates to attend the National Conventions. States conduct primaries and caucuses where voters cast their ballots for delegates who will represent them at the National Conventions. At the conventions, the delegates vote to select their party’s candidate for President of the United States. These systems have evolved over time. How effective is the process?
View the video on Primaries and Caucuses to provide background for students on this topic. (2 minutes)
1. Distribute the Primary and Caucus handout. Ask students to take notes and complete the chart as they view the videos. Introduce students to the Caucus and Primary systems by viewing the linked video; then discuss the following questions: Who determines which system will be implemented in each state? What are some basic differences between the two systems that are expressed in this video? (1 ½ minutes)
2. Primary Process:
- View the linked video and discuss who can vote in the primaries. (1 minute)
- View the following video and discuss who makes the rules regarding the allocation of delegates in each party and distinguish the difference between each. Republican and Democratic Primaries (1 min)
- View this video for additional information on the Proportional and Winner-Take-All systems: (3 ½ minutes)
With your students, discuss the differences between the Proportional and the Winner-Take-All systems. How does this differ for the Democratic Party in the general election?
- Explain to students that when voters cast their ballots in the primaries, they are actually voting for delegates who will represent them at the National Convention. Voters expect their pledged delegates to represent their votes for the candidate who they selected to be president. What about the unpledged Super Delegates? Who are they? Do they exist in both the Republican and Democratic parties? View the video and discuss the differences between pledged delegates and unpledged Super Delegates and the potential effects they could have on the process. (3 minutes)
- View the following video on voters and discuss the voters who participate in primaries as compared to the voters who participate in the general election. Can this affect an election? (1 ½ minutes)
- Ask students to brainstorm possible modifications that can be made to the current process. View the following clip and discuss the ideas that are presented: Regional, Rotating, and Inverse Pyramid Primaries (2 ½ minutes)
3. Independent Voters:
Ask students to share their ideas on the role that Independent voters have in primaries and caucuses. View the following video and discuss the role of independent voters in these systems. Should they be permitted to participate in all primaries and caucuses? If so, what effects could this have on the process? (2 ½ minutes)
4. Iowa Caucus Exhibit 2007
View the video from the Iowa Caucus Exhibit and discuss the questions below. (6 ½ minutes)
- Who is present at a caucus? How does this group of people affect the caucus?
- Discuss the meaning of the phrase “retail politicking”.
- How do both the people who attend the caucus, and the candidates, benefit from this experience?
- Where do caucus voters gather?
- Describe the differences between Republican and Democratic Caucuses.
5. View the video, Front Loading: Real Politicking vs. Super Tuesday and Big Money. Discuss why states prefer to conduct their primaries and caucuses earlier in the year and the consequences of this action. (3 minutes)
6. As a whole class, discuss the pros and cons of each system. Then ask students to propose any changes they think should be made to each of these systems.
Students will participate in a conversation about primaries and caucuses. This will allow them to implement their listening and speaking skills while discovering how ideas emerge and new understandings are arrived at during conversations. Students may read related materials on this topic before moving on to the small group activity. You may consider developing guidelines for conversations with your students; some examples may be, listening to peers’ ideas without interrupting, looking at the speaker, responding respectfully, no side conversations, building on each other’s ideas, etc. Creating a chart of these guidelines and placing it in an area of the classroom for students to see can serve as a reminder throughout the process. The teacher will circulate among the groups to ensure the conversation is moving forward and assess students’ participation.
Have students evaluate the information on their charts and consider the classroom discussions. Ask them to decide for themselves which system, a primary or caucus, they think is the most effective method for selecting delegates. Students should write down at least three points that support their position. They will use these points during their small group activity.
Divide students into small groups that are based on their choice of which system they feel is the most effective. Each group should consist of two perspectives: one that supports the caucus process, and one that supports the primary process. Students can begin their conversations by presenting one point from their list. Each student will share at least one idea to ensure participation. Students may build on each other’s ideas during this time. They should be encouraged to take notes and write down any questions that emerge during the discussion.
Once the conversation is completed, have students reflect independently on the information that was shared as well as on their own participation. Have them answer the following questions on the back of their handouts:
What new information did you learn as a result of this conversation? Did your thinking change? Explain your answer. Did you listen and respond respectfully to your peers’ ideas? What questions do you have? Students can research answers to their questions as a follow up homework assignment.
For additional activities to use with your students such as debates, hearings, Socratic Seminars, and position papers, visit the C-SPAN Classroom Deliberations website