politics, a preliminary election
held to decide a particular political party
's candidate for office. Contrast this with the caucus
, where a (relatively) small group of party members decides the candidate.
Two main types of primaries exist, the open and closed primary. These are primarily decided on a state-by-state basis, according to registration policy.
- The open primary allows any voter to vote, regardless of party affiliation. Virginia is one large state that holds an open primary, mainly because VA does not use party identification as part of the voter registration process (i.e. there is no such thing as a
"registered Republican" or "registered Democrat"). This can give interesting results in an election where one party's candidate is decided (usually because he/she is the incumbent); some candidates will attempt to appeal to "cross-over" voters from the other party, who are voting just for the sake of voting, not because they actually plan to vote for that party in the general election. A voter can only vote in one party's open primary per election.
- The closed primary is pretty tame. Only members of a party, identified as such on the voter registration rolls, may vote in this type of primary. This is more faithful to the true purpose of a primary, but a whole lot less interesting.
If one party is particularly dominant in a given area, the primary may for all intents and purposes serve as the general election
for a local office, due to the weakness of any candidate the opposition might field. For years in the South
, if you wanted to have any say in the process, you voted in the Democratic primary because of its virtual stranglehold on the "solid South
." In states like Kansas
today, you'd better vote in the Republican primary if you care about who your elected officials are.