Primary and General Elections

Citation metadata

Date: 2019
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 734 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
Lexile Measure: 950L

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 

General and primary elections are two types of elections held in the United States. They are part of the process of democratically electing the president and other leaders. The primary elections are held by major political parties throughout the country. These elections allow individual parties to decide which candidate will represent the party in the general election.

The general election is held between the winners of the primary election. Candidates try to convince the public that they will be the best person to lead the country for the term. They often travel and give speeches, engage in debates, and perform interviews. Many candidates also engage in a significant amount of fundraising.

Sidebar: HideShow

Fast Facts

  • Voters do not directly vote for the president. Instead, their votes go toward the Electoral College.
  • Each state has its own laws regarding how primaries can be carried out.
  • Individuals who wish to vote in either primary or general elections must be registered.

What Are Elections?

Election are the process by which democracies choose many government officials. Many modern democracies can trace their roots back to Ancient Greece. Athens, an Ancient Greek city state, began to decide many important governmental matters by voting. This later inspired the Ancient Romans, who developed their own variant of democracy. The Ancient Romans elected representatives to the government, who then argued issues on their behalf. The Senate was also able to appoint its members to narrower governmental positions. Eventually, the Ancient Roman Empire transitioned to a totalitarian style of government.

The United States was founded as a democratic republic. This means that citizens are represented in government by elected officials. Though citizens do not get to vote in governmental decisions, their elected officials do. If citizens are unhappy with how an elected official performs, they may vote the official out of office. Governments that elected many of their officials spread through Europe after the founding of the United States of America.

Americans elect members of the legislative branch. Congress comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives, which work together to make laws. Americans also elect the president, who acts as the head of the nation. They elect some judges, but do not elect members of the nation’s Supreme Court. Instead, members of the Supreme Court are nominated by the president and confirmed by the legislative branch.

Sidebar: HideShow

Critical Thinking Questions

  • Why might people treat primary and general elections differently?
  • How does the existence of a primary change the general election?
  • How might the different types of primary elections result in different outcomes?

Primary and General Elections

In the United States, running for the office of president involves winning two elections. During the primary election, each major political party pulls together its best candidates for president. They often hold debates with one another, giving members of the political party a chance to assess the merits of each candidate. The candidates also campaign in a traditional manner. This includes conducting interviews, giving speeches, and utilizing advertising. At the end of the primaries, people vote for the candidate that they think will best represent the party.

Some states hold closed primaries. In closed primaries, only members of that political party may vote for the party candidate. Other states hold open primaries. In these elections, any registered voter may vote in the primaries. In semi-open primaries, voters can choose a single primary in which to vote. Some states also hold runoff primaries, where a second election is held between the two candidates with the most votes.

At the end of the primary election, each party will have selected a political candidate for office. These candidates then enter the general election. The general election decides which candidate will assume the role of president of the United States and other offices. During the general election, candidates campaign in much the same way as the primary election. They may engage in televised debates with one another. They travel across the United States to give speeches. Many also engage in significant fundraising efforts to help fund their campaigns. Because the winner of the general presidential election becomes president, general elections tend to have much higher voter turnout than primaries.

Sidebar: HideShow

Words to Know

campaign
A race for an election, such as a presidency or a congressional seat.
candidate
A person who applies for a job or is nominated for an election.
debate
A formal discussion in which opposing arguments are put forward.
political party
An organized group of people who have similar beliefs, and who field candidates for elections.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|ZSGPCS594242006