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

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