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The difference between a caucus and primary

6:59 PM, Jan 3, 2012   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida -- To win the Republican nomination for President, a candidate will need to get 1,144 delegates. But the process for getting those delegates varies from state to state.

A total of 12 states hold caucuses that are used for doling out delegates; 37 states will hold a primary while this year, while Missouri Republicans will hold both a primary and a caucus. Missouri's primary will be held on February 7, but delegates will not be determined until a party caucus in March.

Of course in a primary, voters go to the polls, cast their vote and the winners are announced. But with a caucus, registered voters go to a specific location at a specific time and the voting is done publicly. New College of Florida Professor of Political Science Frank Alcock says it usually begins with someone standing up and making a pitch for a specific candidate.

"Then because it's public and in the Republican caucus you are raising your hand, that visibility and then seeing what everyone else is doing can actually sway somebody's support," Alcock explained.

But despite all the political hype, the number of actual delegates handed out in Iowa -- or in all of January for that matter -- is relatively small. Iowa has 28 delegates, New Hampshire even less with 12, South Carolina 25 and Florida just has 50 after half of its delegates were stripped away for moving up its primary.

What this means is that by the end of January, only 5% of all GOP delegates will have been awarded. Alcock also says the early races are no longer a winner take all. Instead, he says delegates are awarded on a proportional basis.

"So whoever wins these early races, especially in January, is not going to walk away with a huge delegate advantage. What they will probably walk away (with)... is a lot of momentum going into Super Tuesday."

Super Tuesday involves 11 states and is set for March 6.

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