What Is a Caucus?

Definition & Examples of a Caucus

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A caucus is a meeting of members of a group or subgroup to discuss issues and make decisions. They are an important part of negotiations, the political process, and business decisions.

Learn more about the role of caucuses and how they serve the interest of groups from all demographics.

What Is a Caucus?

A caucus is a meeting of members of a group to address their specific issues and reach an agreement on how to best present and accomplish their interests.

  • Alternate definition: A meeting of political party leaders to select candidates or convention delegates.

Caucuses can occur in many different contexts. The most common use of the word caucus comes from three different areas: 

  • Mediation
  • Political
  • Business processes (including union negotiations)

In mediation, the two disputing parties get together with a mediator to try to work out an agreement on their differences. A caucus is a confidential meeting of members of one side of the dispute with the mediator to discuss their concerns. This meeting is separate from the joint meeting between both parties.

A caucus in the political sense is also a discussion by a group. In this case, the group makes decisions on candidates or issues. Political caucuses have been used to select delegates to conventions or for legislatures to discuss an issue outside of the legislative process.

Caucuses function in two situations in businesses and labor unions. When a business and a union get together to negotiate a new union contract, there may be times when the two sides need to caucus to come to an agreement. In other cases, some large unions have caucuses within their organizations to work on specific issues, much like political parties. For example, a caucus group within a teacher's union might focus on the issue of benefits or equality.

How a Caucus Works

In the mediation process, all parties meet as a group with the mediator, and then they go to separate rooms to discuss the issue, in caucuses. The mediator goes back and forth between the two caucusing parties, hoping to bring them together. Caucusing is needed in a typical union negotiation once agreements on specific issues, like healthcare benefits, have come to a stalemate, and neither side will budge.

Sometimes difficulties arise between the parties and a caucus in this instance can become a time out and cooling off period.

Mediators use caucuses in divorce mediation for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a caucus can allow one party to sound off without alienating the other side. At other times, they may be a way to present alternative solutions to each side separately or offer negotiating advice to one side.

The U.S. Congress has many caucuses. From the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues to the Congressional Black Caucus to the Auto Care Caucus to the Tea Party Caucus, there is no shortage. These groups are formed under different House and Senate rules, and in any kind of political caucus, the group may take a straw poll to attempt to determine a group's wishes.

The straw poll is unofficial but helps test public opinion on candidates or issues. In the past, straw polls were local, but they have become nationalized in the most recent elections. Before elections, large-scale, scientifically determined surveys are taken of a random sample of the population in an area.

Caucuses are often closed, with their discussions kept confidential.

Benefits of a Caucus

In mediation, a caucus gives all involved parties a chance to sit down with a mediator—who is presumably unbiased—and talk through their issues and receive an outside perspective. This can lead to clarity on issues, introduce previously overlooked ideas, or serve as a safe space for venting.

Politically, having the presence of caucuses allows for the voices and concerns of groups to be heard on a larger scale—something that may be hard to do for underrepresented groups. Having many caucuses ensures that a wide range of issues are voiced and considered when implementing policy. They're an integral part of increasing awareness of concerns.

Key Takeaways

  • A caucus is a meeting of members of a group or subgroup to discuss issues and make decisions.
  • In politics, a caucus a meeting of party leaders to select candidates or convention delegates.
  • Caucuses are an important part of mediation because of the presence of a third party.
  • Having caucuses in congress ensures the views of underrepresented groups are taken into account.