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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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