Presidential primaries and caucuses
Primaries and caucuses are two ways that people help states and political parties choose presidential nominees. Learn how they work and the differences between the processes.
How state primaries and caucuses work
State primaries are run by state and local governments. Voting happens through secret ballot.
Caucuses are private meetings run by political parties. They are held at the county, district, or precinct level. In most, participants divide themselves into groups according to the candidate they support. Undecided voters form their own group. Each group gives speeches supporting its candidate and tries to get others to join its group. At the end, the number of voters in each group determines how many delegates each candidate has won.
Both primaries and caucuses can be "open," "closed," or some hybrid of the two.
- During an open primary or caucus, people can vote for a candidate of any political party.
- During a closed primary or caucus, only voters registered with that party can take part and vote.
- "Semi-open" and "semi-closed" primaries and caucuses are variations of the two main types.
Learn which states have which types of primaries.
Awarding delegates from the primaries and caucuses
At stake in each primary or caucus is a certain number of delegates. These are individuals who represent their state at national party conventions. The candidate who receives a majority of the party’s delegates wins the nomination. The parties have different numbers of delegates due to the rules involved in awarding them. Each party also has some unpledged delegates or superdelegates. These delegates are not bound to a specific candidate heading into the national convention.
When the primaries and caucuses are over, most political parties hold a national convention. This is when the winning candidates receive their nomination.
For information about your state's presidential primaries or caucuses, contact your state election office or the political party of your choice.
LAST UPDATED: June 1, 2023
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