by Mr. Lakhaney

Political Primaries 101

What is a primary election? Why do we have primary elections?
We have two major parties in our nation today, the Republican and Democratic parties.  Within each party, there is a variety of opinions and sometimes there is more than one person in a party who wants run for a particular office.  A primary is the election within a party to choose the candidate to represent that party in the general election.  It’s like the election before the election.  There are primaries for many different offices such as President, Senate, Mayor, city council, etc.

How does our primary process work?
When it comes to the Presidential Primary elections, each party decides when each state has its vote.  In 2012, the primary elections started in January with Iowa and finish up in June in Washington D.C.. When a candidate receives the majority of the votes cast, he or she is said to have won that state.  Each party makes up its own rules about how the delegates are given out.  The Republican Party has some primaries where the winner gets all of the delegates and some in which the delegates are given out proportional the number of votes cast (if two candidates split the vote 60-40, they split the delegates 60-40). The Democratic Party has all of its delegates given out proportionally.

Who can vote in a primary?
In some states, anyone can vote, in other states, you have to be a member of that party to vote.  You can only vote in one primary. Each state gets to make its own rules.

What is a delegate?
A delegate is a person chosen by the candidate to represent a state.  When a candidate wins a state, delegates are pledged to support the winning candidate the national party convention when the nominee is chosen.

How do you know how many delegates each state gets?
Each state gets a number of delegates that is determined by a confusing formula based on the population of the state.  States can be given more delegates based on how strong the party is in that state.  They would get bonus delegates for having a governor, a majority of the state assembly, or many registered members of that party.

What’s the difference between a caucus and a primary?
A primary is an election in which people go into voting booths and vote for which person they want.  A caucus is basically when people of a party get together at a meeting place and discuss which candidate they support and can convince each other to support their candidate.  People declare their support for candidates publicly.

What’s a Super Delegate?
They’re not faster than a speeding bullet but they do have the super power to overturn elections.  It is a person that has an important position in the political party that gets to help decide whom the nominee will be.  These people could be Governors, representatives, Mayors or other elected officials.

They can support any candidate they want, unlike pledged delegates. Currently (as of 2/24), both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have won 51  delegates each by winning votes during primaries and caucuses however Hillary Clinton is currently ahead in the overall delegate count 502-70 because more “super delegates” have said they will support her nomination.

There are around 700 super delegates for the Democratic Party out of a total of around 4,000 total delegates. The Democratic super delegates can support whichever candidate they want whereas the 168 Republican super delegates have to support the candidate chosen by the votes in their states during the primary election.

Why aren’t all the primary elections on the same day?

There’s no reason other than the states and parties decided to things this way.

Why are there primary elections at all?

For a long time, important members of the party simply decided whom the candidate would be. In the early 20th century, there were many changes made to the political process to empower citizens and one of those changes was to give citizens a say in who got the nomination from a particular party.

Who is still running? Who is winning?

You can see the entire primary schedule here.

And you can see the current delegate count here.


By Mr. Lakhaney

TOK Teacher

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