Understanding a caucus

Robert's Rules of Order helps understand the purpose of a caucus.

Caucus, a word that many people don’t fully understand, is applied to a similar meeting of all the known or admitted partisans of a particular position on an important issue in a convention or any other deliberative assembly, who meet to plan strategy toward a desired result within the assembly. Such a meeting may be held on the presumed informal understanding that those who attend will follow the decisions of the caucus.

A caucus may take place at any time. Sometimes, caucuses are different groupings of delegates, for example, all delegates from a certain district, territory or other geographic area as defined by the organization. They are similarly governed by the rules generally applicable to committees.

The delegates are free to vote as they see fit, except where an instruction has been given; but a society can, by instructing its delegation, bind it to vote as a unit (that is, to cast all of its votes in accord with the decision of the majority of the delegation) on all issues, on a particular class of business, or on certain matters to be acted on by the convention [RONR (11th ed.), p. 606-607].

Caucuses are often discussed relating to politics, because several states use caucuses, but it does in fact transcend that sole concept into other conventions.  During a convention or before one opens, certain members may wish to meet separately to decide how they will respond to specific matters of business. By “caucusing” they hope to draw together perspectives or to plan strategies, or to obtain commitment from others on voting in a particular item of business or election.

Typically, in government affairs before a vote on an important issue in the House or Senate each party will often caucus to discuss the vote, get everyone on the same page or to count how many votes they expect to have.

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