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. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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