What Does "Caucus" Mean? The Buzzword Has A Few Different Definitions

The words "caucus" and "caucuses" have been thrown around a lot lately because the crucial Iowa caucuses will be held on Monday. The caucuses are a big deal for the presidential election, as the results could determine the success or failure of particular candidates. It's one thing to understand what happens at the Iowa caucuses and why they matter, but it's another thing entirely to understand what "caucus" means.

As a word, "caucus" is defined as "a meeting of members of a political party for the purpose of choosing a candidate for an election," according to Merriam-Webster. And that is exactly what happens at the Iowa caucuses: The candidates' supporters gather together in their respective precincts to select their party's candidate for the upcoming general election. Pro tip: Since "caucus" means a singular meeting, the Iowa caucuses (plural) refers to the political meetings held in all 1,681 precincts across the state of Iowa.

The first known use of "caucus" appeared in 1763, according to Online Etymology Dictionary, and it originated in New England. It is thought that "caucus" emerged from the Algonquian word "caucauasu," which means counselor, elder, or adviser. Although the Iowa caucuses refer to the noun form of "caucus," it means something slightly different as a verb. Technically, to caucus means to meet in or hold a caucus. However, the colloquial use of "to caucus" has changed that meaning a bit, as candidates and supporters now use it to mean to campaign for a certain candidate.

In fact, hashtags have surfaced on Twitter that promote caucusing for the different presidential candidates. Usually #CaucusFor_____, each hashtag shows numerous tweets that demonstrate the colloquial use of "caucus" and how it actually means to individually campaign for a certain candidate.

In many ways, though, "to caucus" for someone still typically means to show up to one of these political party meetings to show your support and cast your vote for your preferred candidate.

So there you have it: "Caucus" means a meeting for members of a political party in which they decide on a single candidate for the general election. It also means to hold or attend one of these meetings, where you can then cast your vote for your favorite presidential hopeful. In some instances, however, to caucus for a candidate can mean to individually support and campaign for that person, rather than participating in a caucus meeting.