The PHOENIX Guide to the Presidential Primaries

The presidential primaries can be confusing. Why are people already voting, if elections aren’t until November? And why does Marco Rubio have “momentum” if he finished in third place? And how can Bernie Sanders also have momentum, while questions surround Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Didn’t the two Democratic candidates finish in a virtual tie?

Never fear. The PHOENIX is here to answer your questions.

  1. So why is everyone talking about Iowa? And what’s the difference between a caucus and a primary? The path to the White House begins in Iowa. Republicans and Democrats award official delegates — typically party insiders — to candidates by caucusing, a process that involves debate and persuasion. New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada then hold traditional primaries, open to all registered voters via secret ballot. Nevada’s Democratic primary precedes its Republican primary, while the process is reversed for South Carolina. Positive results for a candidate in Iowa lead to more media coverage, donations, endorsements and votes.

  2. Why exactly are primary wins important? The more votes a presidential candidate receives in a primary race, the more delegates he or she receives. The more delegates a candidate has, the likelier he or she is to win the party nomination. Every Democratic and Republican nominee since 1980 (except Bill Clinton in 1992) won either Iowa or New Hampshire, or both.

  3. What’s the scoop from this year’s Iowa caucuses? This year’s Iowa results were notable for both parties. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by the narrowest margin in the history of the Iowa Democratic caucuses. The Republican caucuses had a record turnout — about 185,000, according to precinct entrance polls.

Here’s the primary schedule for February, along with some background on previous years’ winners:


Adapted from The New York Times’ brilliant Election Guide. All photos courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

Morgan Christian is the Opinion editor.

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