How Does the US Presidential Primary Work? | Social Studies

February 17, 2016 Jennifer Brandt

How Does the US Presidential Primary Work? | Social Studies

Every four years we get the chance to exercise our right to vote for a new president. Are you following the news on the 2016 United States Presidential Election? Regardless of which party or presidential candidate you agree with, it’s important you understand how our country’s election process works.

This topic aligns with the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ civics and government topics. In preparation for the TASC Social Studies subtest, and before Super Tuesday is upon us, today we will discuss how the presidential primaries work in the United States. Let’s get started!

What is Super Tuesday? 

While some state primaries happen on various days throughout the first half of the year, the majority of primary elections are held on Super Tuesday, according to Constitution Daily. This year, Super Tuesday is on March 1st. The day is titled “Super” because many believe the voting results suggest which candidates will make it to the general election ballot.

What’s the difference between primaries and caucuses? 

According to The Washington Post, the major difference between a primary election and a caucus is:

  • State governments fund and run primaries. Registered voters go to their local polling place and vote for a presidential nominee. Primaries run similar to general elections.
  • State parties (democratic or republican) fund and run caucuses. Registered voters go to their local polling place and attend an hour-long meeting to vote for a presidential nominee and party delegates. Selected delegates move on to represent their party at county and district conventions, furthering the party’s message on state or national issues. 

You may have read about the Iowa Caucus on February 1st and New Hampshire’s Primary on February 9th. Upcoming caucuses and primaries are as follows:

  • February 20th is South Carolina’s Republican primary and Nevada's Democratic caucus.
  • February 23rd is Nevada’s Republican caucus.
  • February 27th is South Carolina’s Democratic primary.

The rest of the states hold their primaries and caucuses starting in March, and they typically end in early June.

National Conventions 

At the beginning of every presidential race, there are several democratic and republican candidates. So how do we reach one democratic and one republican candidate for the general election ballot?

According to, each political party holds a national convention after every state has completed their caucus or primary. The national convention is where state delegates decide which candidate will represent the party and run for the presidency.

Read more about our presidential primary process at The Washington Post, and make sure to get out on Election Day and exercise your right to vote.  

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