An exclusive meeting of the members of a party, or faction for organizational and/or strategic purposes. In the United States there are nominating caucuses and congressional caucuses. In some states caucuses of local party members are held as the first step in a multistage process to determine the membership of the state party's delegation to the National Convention where presidential candidates are selected. The best‐known caucuses of this type take place in Iowa. These caucuses select delegates to county conventions in accordance with the presidential preferences of those who attend. Primary elections provide an alternative means whereby rank‐ and‐file party members may participate in the process of selecting presidential candidates.
The word caucus is also used in the United States in reference to party organizational structures in Congress. The parties in each house periodically hold private meetings to elect officers, to make nominations, and where substantive policy issues may also be considered. Among Democrats such gatherings are known as caucus meetings whereas Republicans in modern times come together in a ‘conference’. The significance of the congressional caucus or conference has varied over time. They have also usually been more important in the House than in the Senate and Democrats have tended to take them more seriously than Republicans.
In the early years of the republic congressional caucuses took upon themselves the responsibility for selecting candidates for President and Vice‐President. Congressional party leaders have periodically sought to use caucus mechanisms to instil party discipline in the legislature. This occurred during Thomas Jefferson's and Woodrow Wilson's presidencies. In the latter period, the Democratic caucus in the House debated legislative proposals and ruled that when two‐thirds of those present agreed to support a bill this would, with certain qualifications, be binding on party members in the House. In the early twentieth century, the Republican leadership in the House also made use of the caucus in efforts to maintain party discipline and later, in 1925, expelled rebels who supported Robert LaFollette, the Progressive candidate for the Presidency in 1924, as did the House Democratic caucus against two Democrats who supported Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate in 1964.
In the 1970s the Democratic caucus in the House abolished the seniority rule in favour of making Committee chairmanship nominations subject to caucus approval. In 1974 three chairmen were deposed. The caucus was further strengthened by making the appointment of Rules Committee members and Appropriations Committee Chairmen subject to its approval. A further rule change conferred on the principal committee of the Democratic caucus, the Steering and Policy Committee, the right to nominate standing committee members, subject to caucus approval.
The word is also used for informal organizations of members who share common interests and come together in attempting to influence the agenda. These bodies often have cross‐party membership. One of the best‐known examples is the Congressional Black Caucus, an organization of African‐American legislators. There is also a Hispanic Caucus, and many others.