The 1 Thing Most Voters Don’t Realize About Primary Elections

Primary Elections

We kick off a lot of statewide primaries in May, and that got me thinking about how it was only recently that I understood something really critical about these elections.

Other than presidential primaries, I’ll admit that I didn’t pay close attention to primary races in my local districts prior to 2016. At the same time, I’d been puzzling about why so many extreme candidates were getting elected. Little did I realize that those two things were connected.

Research into voter trends has demonstrated that voters who vote in primaries are way more partisan (as a group) than general election voters. The more partisan they are, the more the candidates from the extreme wing of their party win the primaries. And, with so few districts that are truly competitive, once the extreme candidate makes it onto the general election ballot, there isn’t much general election voters can do to prevent that candidate from winning.

A perfect recent example of this is Lauren Boebert. Despite being a Q-anon follower and making many incendiary comments during the campaign, at the end of the day, middle of the road Republican voters did not turn out to vote in the primary and Boebert won, knocking off the Republican incumbent. As we all know, she then went on to win the general election in the Republican-leaning district.

Marjorie Taylor Greene was another example, although in her case, whoever won the primary would win the general election automatically because no Democrat chose to run in the extremely red district (R+27 for those who are wondering.)

I wish I could get more people to understand how powerful primary voters are. Voters in the general election determine the winners, but primary voters determine the direction of the country by choosing the candidates.

So with that, I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to find out who is running in the primaries for your local districts (congressional and state) and make a plan to vote in the primary election. Make sure it’s on your calendar!!


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Categories: Elections, Explainers

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5 replies

  1. Here’s the problem. Most of the eixtreme candidates (at least those that could care less about our democracy) are Republicans. So, in Florida and other closed primary states, a Dem would have to register as a Republican to choose a more moderate candidate. I do know of a few people who do this in my red county. But, then that eliminates you from voting in any Democratic primary.

  2. Hey, TS
    Being Canadian I do not understand how your primaries work, not for certain. I presume only card-carrying voters can vote (Dems for Democratic candidates, Repugs for Repglican candidates, but who votes for Independents?). But how does a person get their name on the candidates’ list? How many people can be on that list, etc. Is it possible for more than one person to run for a party in a general election? Thanks!

    • It depends on the state. In open primaries, anyone can vote for anyone. In closed primaries, only registered Democrats can vote for Democratic candidates (etc). Some states allow Independents to pick a party’s primary to vote in, but they are often left out.

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