What are the Presidential Primaries?

2020 Primary Image: https://www.uspresidentialelectionnews.com/2020-presidential-primary-schedule-calendar/

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

This is the time of year where we hear about the many events and debates that make up the presidential primaries and caucuses. These events are held in various states as well as in the District of Columbia, and other territories of the United States. They greatly impact the future of the country and its leadership.  

Why are they important?
Although much emphasis is placed on voting for the president of the United States every four years, it is critical that citizens take part in voting in the primaries and caucuses. They should also stay informed with the political positions of each candidate. This information can often be gotten from following the various debates throughout the country. The primaries and caucuses make up part of the process of nominating candidates for presidential elections. Each party will ultimately nominate a candidate to run for the presidency.

The process is handled differently by each political party because the United States Constitution has never specified the process. The first state in the United States to hold its presidential primary was New Hampshire in 1920. Some states hold open primaries where voters may vote any party, regardless of their affiliation. Those states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.  For example, some states only conduct primary elections, some hold only caucuses, and others use a combination of both.  

The primaries and caucuses are staggered, generally beginning sometime in January or February, and ending about mid-June before the general election in November. State and local governments run the primary elections, while caucuses are private events that are directly run by the political parties themselves. A state’s primary election or caucus is usually an indirect election: instead of voters directly selecting a particular person running for president, they determine the number of delegates each party’s national convention will receive from their respective state. 

The 2020 Democratic Party Presidential Primaries
The 2020 presidential primaries have had some historic precedents. A total of 26 major candidates have entered the 2020 race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. This is the largest field of presidential candidates for any political party in the post-reform era of American history. This exceeds the field of 17 major candidates that sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Concluding Thoughts
It is important for students and every person to be informed of what it means to be a US citizen and what rights they have. Particularly, in the case of voting they should know the process for choosing our elected officials. Below I am including some sample resources to help students understand the presidential primaries.

Lesson Plans and Resources
What are the Primaries and Caucuses? – Lesson Plan
Lesson Plan | Election 2016: Understanding Primaries and Caucuses
Electing a president: Lessons for teaching about the presidential primaries
How does the primary process work?
Primary Election Versus General Election: Definition & Differences
Understanding Elections: Primaries 101

2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries
United States presidential primary


  1. Since before I could vote, I was always told the importance of voting and how it is a right that should be fully taken advantage of. However, with that being said, I was never really taught about the importance of Primaries and Caucuses. Honestly, before reading this article I was not sure what they were. Reading this article helped me understand why they are important, especially in this upcoming election.

    • Being just 18 years old this upcoming presidential election will be the first I will be able to vote for. I find politics very interesting and have therefore been closely following this upcoming election and the candidates. While reading this article, I found it very interesting that the democratic party has so many more candidates then any party ever has before. I look forward to seeing how the election unfolds.

    • As US citizens, it is important to know our rights, and the background knowledge behind them. Personally, I have exercised my right to vote, but I had no clue the difference between the primaries and the caucuses. I had never even heard of the word “caucuses”, but now it makes sense how they are both vital for nominating a president, they are indirect elections. I believe this is the perfect timing for this article with elections around the corner; it is important to stay educated especially since there are 26 major candidates entering the race. I was amazed to read how this is the largest field of presidential candidates for any political party in American history. I truly hope those 26 individuals have more love for the people of this country than our current President does, which is why I will do my research and practice my right to vote.

  2. Voting is not only a right as an American citizen, it is a privilege. I voted in the 2016 presidential primary before I was even 18 years old. My mother encouraged me to register and vote because in Ohio, if you are of age before the general election, you are eligible to vote in the primary. This was the first time I felt like I was a part of the American democracy and it empowered me to continue voting.

  3. I have always understood the importance of voting, but since I came of voting age I have felt uninformed. I have always believed that one of the most important things to an election is well-informed voters,but it seems that whenever I begin researching I get contradicting information depending on what news agency I go to. Because it is so difficult to be 100% sure the information you have is the accurate information, it is that much more important to stay up to date with the debates and other news stories.

  4. Before reading this article, I was not aware of the distinction between a primary and a general election. I now understand that by voting in the primaries, I am helping nominate the candidates that I will later get to choose from in the general election. To neglect to vote in the primaries would be denying myself the opportunity to participate in the entirety of the voting process. It is quite impressive that there are 26 major candidates entering the race, which makes the individual’s primary vote all the more significant in narrowing down those candidates.

  5. Up until reading this article, I never really knew much about primaries or caucuses – and I am a 21 year old voter! Obviously come election time I hear these terms in the news, but my knowledge stopped at the association of them to the elections themselves. It is interesting that there is nothing in the Constitution regulating them. I think that students should be informed about what the primaries and caucuses are, especially given today’s political climate. They need to be educated as they grow older and become more involved in society!

  6. I believe it is very important for my generation to understand fully what the presidential primaries are. For me personally, I didn’t know much about them during the last election and I was not old enough to vote yet. All I knew was that it was a voting process leading up to the presidential elections. Now that I have read the article I now understand not only what they are but the process behind them and the importance of them.

  7. Primaries and caucuses have always been things that I have been confused about what they were. From time I have learned that they are very important in the voting process. It is important to stay informed on the different debates and on the candidates before going in to vote. I have found that after reading this article I really wasn’t taught much about the voting process in school. A lot goes into it that we aren’t informed about. I also agree that it is very important for US citizens to be informed on the rights we have.

  8. Voting in the primaries has always ben important to me. When I registered to vote, I made sure to pick a specific party, and not just pick “independent”. I knew that if I chose independent then I wouldn’t be able to vote in the primaries. I think that everyone needs to vote in the primaries, because the winner will be who is running for our next president.

  9. Primaries have become an integral stage in our democratic process with good reason as they give citizens even more say in those that might fill the highest political offices, and so my question is this: why not include them in the constitution? What stands in the way of creating a constitutional amendment that calls for and outlines the exact process of Presidential Primaries? If this were to happen it would only cement a fundamental process that certainly isn’t going anywhere and would give it much deserved credibility.

  10. Voting is such a powerful thing in the world. I myself have never voted and I am 19 years old. I have not voted simply because I do not know anything about politics and I don’t know who to vote for. This article has made me want to do more research and vote in the upcoming election. It is my duty as a citizen of this country to vote.

  11. Voting is something that everyone seems to talk about, but something not everyone tends to be a part of. Voting is very important and I do not think that everyone sees just how important it is. I wasn’t aware of how many people were running for the Democratic party, but I find it quite interesting.

  12. I agree that voting is very important and a right of being a US citizen. It is necessary that people are informed of the political positions of each candidate in order to actually know who and what you are voting for. I think now is the best time for voters to get to know what each candidate stands for especially with everything going on in our world today. This is very important for the primaries because that’s when we start decided who we want to represent our parties.

  13. This article was very insightful to me because I did not know the difference between general and primary election before reading. I voted in the previous election, however I did not fully understand the importance of it. After reading, I firmly believe that the youth should be educated on this topic because I feel as if a lot of citizens my age are not aware of the opportunity and importance of this right.

  14. As a young adult, I feel as though voting is one of the most important parts of society that we are pressured into taking part of. With that being said, I do think young adults need to take part in voting whether it be the primary election or caucus elections because voting determines “the rulers of the government” which shapes out society and our future. There is a lack of knowledge about the process of voting and a lack of interest in such a political process from the “Z” generation and I will admit, that as a child of the Z generation, we need to be more informed about the voting process and actually taught how it affects us to gain more interest.

  15. Voting is something that I think is so important. It is our duty as a citizen of the United States to take part in voting whether that is the presidential election, the primaries or the caucuses. Being well informed about candidates, their views and stance is needed information when going into vote, that is why resources should be investigated and facts gathered. Not only is voting important, teaching about the concept is also crucial; the students that come through our classrooms will one day have the choice to vote, but if they weren’t properly informed about the process and such, they might decide not to vote. As a future teacher I want to show my students how important it is to vote for the candidate and party they believe in. I also really liked the resources that were given to help better inform students about elections, because proper education can lead to a generation of voting citizens.

  16. As I was just shy of 18 years old during the last election cycle, this upcoming 2020 Presidential Election will be the first one I will be able to participate in. I have always found politics to be interesting, much to my family members dismay, and I often find myself developing strong opinions on the various candidates after exploration of policies. I believe that all citizens should respect their right to vote and should understand why their vote is so important. I am proud to say that I am frequently the person who harasses her friends and colleagues about exercising their right to vote when it comes time. While I never tell people who to vote for, I am always up for discussions on candidates and the sharing of resources to better understand the platforms of those running. I am excited to see how this election cycle progresses as we get closer to voting dates.

  17. I think that your mention of the candidates running for the Democratic Party nomination is a really interesting point that many people aren’t putting enough focus on. Can anyone forget how much of a circus the republican primaries were in the 2016 election with name calling and everyone trying to toss their hat into the ring? I’m worried that the Democratic Party will be too busy arguing with itself to gain a confident leader. On the other hand, the fierce competition may forge an even stronger candidate that could lead the Democratic Party winning the election. Only time can tell.

  18. Personally, I have never voted and I am 19 years old. I am interested in voting for the 2020 election because I have done my research and believe it is very important to get out and vote. As a citizen of the United states and being of age, it is important to go our and vote because it is a privilege and duty of being a citizen.

  19. The primaries are a very important “event” in our country especially noways, and there are many US Citizens who never vote or even pay attention to what is going on in the world to even car about voting. I think that the US citizens need to watch the debates that are going to be coming up very soon and not just watch one but watch all of them including all political parties just so that they can understand what these people are running for and to see if they have the best interest for the country. I am now 19 and i have voted twice already and when i voted for the first time i felt like i was making a difference in my hometown community because i attended political rallies and went to political dinners so that i could make the best decision in my opinion that i could on who i think would be fit for the local government. As

  20. I had no idea that the constitution doesn’t have any regulations about how a primary should be conducted. Its also really crazy to me that only a few states have the primaries set up so that you can vote for either party. I don’t know what the benefit those states think they are getting out of having it set up that way. I would think that it would be better to have all the states on the same page with something like that for it to be more effective and accurate but, I guess since there isn’t anything in the constitution about it there sat much they can do about that.

  21. Before reading this article, I did not realize that some states allow voters to vote any party. I also had no idea that the constitution does not dictate how Presidential Primaries are ran. Kentucky has low voter turnout and requiring one to vote based on party I believe is one contributing factor. This way of running primaries also instills the need to stick to ones’ party. All too often, voters do not look at the best candidate, they vote solely based on the D or R next to the candidate’s name. I like to consider myself an informed voter, and yet I did not know how the primaries are ran. It is important that students learn their rights as citizens, and how those rights work so that they take full advantage of them.

  22. This will be my first presidential election, so I was drawn to this article as I look to become more informed about this new chapter in my life. While I have not always been up to date on the logistics of the political world, that does not mean I do not understand the importance of knowing at least basic rules and guidelines. When it comes to voting, people my age tend to get a bad rep, as older generations curse us for not being informed. And while that may be true for a certain part of our population, I would argue that for the rest of us, those who are responsible enough to care about the current world and its future, that could not be further from the truth. My generation often gets attacked for being lazy, inconsiderate, and unreliable, but those attacks come from people who have hardly taken the time to observe us or be with us. From my perspective, I see a generation ready to see change, one that knows it will take work, and dedication, but at this point, it is the only way to see growth again. Articles like this always seem to remind me of facts like that, and push me to be even more involved in activities like the primaries which are so important to the future of this nation.

  23. This is certainly an important issue. Not every voter understands what the primaries are. Perhaps they wait towards the end to make a decision on their candidate. Or maybe they just stick with the political party and care little about the actual candidate. Voting is a privilege, and everyone should be educated about who and what they are voting for whenever they are exercise their right.

  24. As US citizens, we are all taught that voting is an important right and that we should exercise this right to choose elected officials, however, these lessons often lack teaching the specific process of nominating a candidate to run for the presidency. Prior to reading this article, I was unfamiliar with the term caucus. This article has shown the importance in knowing the process of choosing elected officials and exercising your right to vote in primary and caucus elections. I found it interesting to learn that this is largest field of political candidates running for the democratic party in the 2020 election, it will be intriguing to see how the election unfolds.

  25. It is extremely important for students to understand the meaning of what the Presidential Primaries are. To become great citizens students need to know everything they can about the voting process and that includes what the Presidential Primaries are. Giving students the knowledge they need to learn what the Presidential Primaries are will give them knowledge that they need about how to vote for the president that they want to see in office. Finally, students need to understand how the President of the United States gets elected.

  26. Before reading this article, I had no idea what presidential primaries or caucuses were. I had never known that these were terms related to the presidential election process. Now that I have read this article, I understand and know why these two terms are important and relevant to the presidential elections. Voting is an important part of becoming a citizen and students need to be made aware of what the process of voting entails as well as how U. S. presidents are elected. Primaries and caucuses are a part of the voting process and therefore when teaching a lesson about voting, teachers need to make sure that these terms are discussed and their students understand what these two words mean. By doing so, students will better understand how voting works and this is important because our future students will be voters some day. This article is a great resource to use if and when teachers are doing a lesson about voting. I will definitely be using it if I become a social studies teacher in the near future. Thank you for sharing this article with us, Dr. Childs. It was very informative and I learned a lot by reading it. I now understand the voting and election process more than I did before reading this article. I am now an informed voter because of you ! 🙂

Comments are closed.