A caucus is a meeting of supporters or members of a political party or movement. The exact definition varies among political cultures.
In United States politics and government, caucus has several distinct but related meanings. One meaning is a meeting of members of a political party or subgroup to coordinate members' actions, choose group policy, or nominate candidates for various offices. The term is frequently used to discuss the procedures used by some states to select presidential nominees such as the Iowa caucuses, the first and largest in the modern presidential election cycle, and the only occasionally relevant Texas caucuses. Since 1980 such caucuses have become, in the aggregate, an important component of the nomination process. Because such caucuses are infrequent and complex to organize, there is a practice version called a maucus, a portmanteau of mock caucus.
In early American history, the Congressional nominating caucus and legislative caucus were influential meetings of congressmen to decide the party's nominee for President and party platforms. Similar caucuses were held by the parties at state level.
Another meaning is a subgrouping of officials with shared affinities or ethnicities who convene, often but not always to advocate, agitate, lobby or to vote collectively, on policy. At the highest level, in Congress and many state legislatures, Democratic and Republican members organize themselves into a caucus (occasionally called a "conference"). There can be smaller caucuses in a legislative body, including those which are multi-partisan or even bicameral. Of the many Congressional caucuses, one of the best-known is the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African-American members of Congress. Another prominent example is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, whose members voice and advance issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, including Puerto Rico. In a different vein, the Congressional Internet Caucus is a bipartisan group of Members who wish to promote the growth and advancement of the Internet. Other congressional caucuses such as the Out of Iraq Caucus, are openly organized tendencies or political factions (within the House Democratic Caucus, in this case), and strive to achieve political goals, similar to a European "platform," but generally organized around a single issue.
Among American left-wing groups, a caucus may be an openly organized tendency or political faction within the group, equivalent to a European "platform". Examples would include the "Debs," "Coalition" and "Unity" Caucuses of the Socialist Party of America in its last years.
In Washington, the caucus has become controversial. According to the Web site for Washington Democrats, even though the Washington State Legislature decided the state would hold a primary, the Washington State Democratic Party decided to continue choosing its delegates through the traditional caucuses. As a result, votes for a Democratic candidate in the State Primary do not count toward delegate selection, although the state will spend $9 to $10 million on it.
Despite a rule in the Democratic Party that delegates are to be allocated proportionally rather than winner take all, some individual caucus groups decide for themselves how to allocate their group's delegates — for instance, by using a majority vote to determine which of the two methods to select. Discussion of party rules is not necessarily part of the caucus experience, and few rules govern the actual process. And, in the winner-take-all scenario, a group's delegate allocation may be reported as unanimous, with the minority votes ignored. Depending on how the caucus. is organized, the caucus system may require public announcement of which candidate a voter supports. Voters have the option to draft resolutions, and those are introduced by delegates at later divisional caucuses or conventions.
In some Commonwealth nations, a caucus is a regular meeting of all Members of Parliament who belong to a political party. In a Westminster System, a party caucus can be quite powerful, as it can elect or dismiss the party's parliamentary leader. The caucus also determines some matters of policy, parliamentary tactics, and disciplinary measures against disobedient MPs. In some parties, the caucus also has the power to elect MPs to Cabinet when the party is in government. For example this is traditionally so in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the New Zealand Labour Party. The term is rarely used in the United Kingdom.
Since Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister of Australia on November 24, 2007, he instead of the ALP caucus will choose the cabinet.
In New Zealand and in ALP, caucus can refer to the group of the MPs themselves, rather than their meeting. Thus, the Australian Federal Parliamentary Labor Party is commonly called "the Labor Caucus." The word was introduced to Australia by King O'Malley, an American-born Labor member of the first federal Parliament in 1901; it presumably entered New Zealand politics at a similar time. In New Zealand, the term is used by all political parties, but in Australia, it is restricted to the Labor Party. For the Australian Liberal and National parties, and for all parties in the UK and the Republic of Ireland (not a Commonwealth country), the usual term is "parliamentary party".
As in New Zealand, in Canada caucus refers to all members of a particular party in Parliament, including senators, or a provincial legislature. These members elect among themselves a caucus chair who presides over their meetings and is an important figure when the party is in opposition and an important link between cabinet and the backbench when the party is in government.
The word can also be used to mean all the deputies in an assembly who come from a certain geographical or other background, for example "the Antarctic caucus."
The term caucus is also used in mediation, facilitation and other forms of alternate dispute resolution to describe circumstances when, rather than meeting at a common table, the disputants retreat to a more private setting to process information, agree on negotiation strategy, confer privately with counsel and/or with the mediator, or simply gain "breathing room" after the often emotionally-difficult interactions that can occur in the common area where all parties are present. The degree to which caucuses are used can be a key defining element, and often an identifier, of the mediation model being used. For example, "facilitative mediation" tends to discourage the use of caucuses and tries to keep the parties talking at a single table, while "evaluative mediation" may allow parties to separate more often and rely on the mediator to shuttle information and offers back and forth.
The origin of the word caucus is debated, but it is generally agreed that it came into use in English in the United States. According to some sources, it comes from the Algonquian word for "counsel", 'cau´-cau-as´u', and was probably introduced into American politics through the Democratic Party in New York known as Tammany Hall, which liked to use Native American terms. Other sources claim that it derived from Medieval Latin caucus, meaning "drinking vessel", and link it to the Caucus Club of colonial Boston. It may also be derived from the Arabic word , "قوقعه", which means shell or enclosed area.