5 Sites That Help You Understand The US Primary Elections

Justin Pot 30-01-2016

Have you ever wondered why the United States Presidential primaries are in the news for so long, even in other countries? After all, you rarely hear about political parties in other nations picking their leaders.


Part of the answer is obvious: the US is the most powerful country on the planet, and as such their election results matter almost everywhere. But another reason is that the US primary system seems designed to maximize drama. Instead of picking party leadership at a national convention, or even with a single-day vote, the process is drawn out in state-by-state elections than begin in the winter and don’t end until mid-summer.

Basically, the system is designed for drama in a way no other country can match – and the international press adores covering drama. If you want a quick tutorial about how the US Primary system works, this CGP Grey video is a great place to start. Watch it now.

Got it? It’s complicated, and a few things have changed since 2012 when the video was made, but it’s not a bad starting point. Now let’s go over a few sites that help you know who is voting when, who won where, and even learn who is likely to win.

The New York Times’ Primary Calendar: Which States Vote When

The most basic question you might have is when the primary in your state happens. The New York Times offers a great single-page calendar outlining which primaries are when, also mentioning who won particular states in 2008 and 2012.



Whatever your opinion on the New York Times may be, this is a clean page that lists which primaries are when. Even better: you can add this to an online calendar. There’s an iCal link for Apple and Outlook users, and a one-click link for Google Calendar (this is another awesome thing you can add to Google Calendar Awesome Things You Can Automatically Import To Google Calendar A calendar keeps every aspect of your life focused in one place, allowing you to worry less and accomplish more. Here are some useful ways to import important information into your Google Calendar. Read More .) If a primary is happening, you’ll know.

Politico’s Presidential Primary Results Map: Who Won Where, at A Glance

It’s one thing to know which primaries are coming up, but what about the ones that already happened? If you’re a fan of fascinating maps Power Outages Caused by Squirrels, and 4 Other Fascinating Maps Maps are useful for getting around. But they also can be stunning tools for visualizing interesting things. Today we look at fivve maps that are more cool than useful. Read More , make sure to bookmark Politico’s primary results map. You’ll see a map of the US with results filled in as the primary season goes on.


As of this writing, of course, none of the primaries have happened yet – hence the map is blank. But as the election season moves on, this will be an interesting way to put results into context.

FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 Primary Forecasts: Respected Forecasts Based on Data

If you can’t wait for results, you might be tempted by polls. But polls have famously diverging numbers, making them hard to make sense of. FiveThirtyEight made a name for itself in 2012, when it accurately predicted a wide array of results that the rest of the media had botched. They did this by averaging all the various polls out there while trying to correct for inconsistencies using other data points.


This year their Primary Forecasts page is already up and running. No one can predict human behavior with certainty – we’re way too complicated for that – but FiveThirtyEight has a better track record than most. Read Nate Silver’s explanation of how their predictions are calculated if you’re a math geek, or even if you’re just curious.

The Political Machine ($10): Election Simulation Where You Are The Candidate

If you’re the sort of person who learns more quickly by interacting with a system than observing it. The Political Machine might be worth checking out. This game lets you go through the primary and general election process as any candidate you like.

It’s not exactly an education tool: it’s a game first and foremost. A lot of what you do is going to be inaccurate. But if you want a more tactile sense of what’s involved, it might be worth a spin.

Crash Course US Government and Politics: Entertaining Video Course on The US System of Government

If you want a comprehensive understanding of how the US political system works, beyond just the primaries, check out Crash Course Government and Politics. The course is designed to help high school students taking the AP United States Government and Politics class, but host Craig Benzine is so engaging that I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for an overview.

We’ve recommended Crash Course’s History and Biology videos in the past Crash Course: Entertaining YouTube Courses On History & Biology Stop watching the same old crap on YouTube. Check out this great set of history and biology lessons instead. They're hilarious, engaging, entertaining and enlightening, all at once. I promise you, they're not boring and... Read More , and their US Government and Politics course is just as informative and fascinating. Check it out.

One caveat: do not watch these videos if you find senseless violence against plastic eagles disturbing.

Which Election Resources Do You Recommend?

I’ve tried my best to point to non-partisan resources that state the facts. But I’m wondering what I’ve missed. Can you think of any other resources? Maybe fact checking sites The 8 Best Fact-Checking Sites for Finding Unbiased Truth This is the age of misinformation and fake news. Here are the best unbiased fact-checking sites so that you can find the truth. Read More ? Let’s compile anything we can think of in the comments below.

And while we’re talking about the election, remember: political campaigns are watching you on Facebook Political Campaigns Are Tracking You on Facebook, Here's Why You know by now that companies and government use social media to track you. But there's another group that's watching, analyzing, and capitalizing on every move you make on Facebook: political campaigners. Read More . Creepy, right?

Related topics: Cool Web Apps, Politics.

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  1. Anonymous
    February 1, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    "It just strikes me as over-simplifying a complex system by blaming its problems on the people."
    I am not blaming the system's problems on the voters. What I am blaming them for is apathy, complacency, emphases on trivial issues such as did the candidate inhale or not, or how the candidate looks.

    "But the sort of person who calls them “sheeple” is rarely offering solutions"
    One solution was suggested by an Australian friend. In Australia, you vote or you pay a stiff fine.
    Anothe solution was suggested by Robert Heinlein in his book "Starship Troopers." Citizenship is not automatically given to an individual upon birth. It has to be earned by serving your country in one of several prescribed ways. Among the perks of citizenship are the right/privilege to vote and the right to run for public office.
    Unfortunately, in the US, neither one of these solutions has a snow ball's in hell chance of getting adopted. Tradition, self-interest and special interests stand in the way.

  2. Anonymous
    January 31, 2016 at 12:54 am

    So if I understand this right, the Primaries are basically like mini-elections to choose what candidates will run for each party. Why not just let everyone run? Sure that would divide the vote up significantly but with all the money that goes into getting the candidates out there for the Primaries, they mind as well continue running unless their numbers are beyond hope. The biggest problem I see with this US election is most of the attention is on Trump. But what about the more moderate Republicans who actually have a desire to cooperate with other parties to achieve a shared goal? Yes, they do exist! You just don't hear much about them because who wants to cover a boring old politician whose willing to negotiate?

    The main thing that worries me in American elections is lack of choice. Once you're down to two candidates, then that's it. But what if you desire the third option in an issue? How do you get represented then? Now, I know this is hard critique to take from someone who lives in a country who has multiple political parties running in an election and technically has no business interfering in your own political affairs, but you will never find closer neighbors then up north. We're just naturally concerned about your well-being since out two nations have been continental BFFs (we forgive you trying to invade us in 1812. :) So its rather painful to watch everyone have to choose from just two people, often not even agreeing with what the person is saying but only voting for them because they just don't like the other guy! So if people aren't satisfied with who they elect as president but only because he wasn't the other guy, would combining the Primaries and main election be such a bad thing?

    • Anonymous
      January 31, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      "the Primaries are basically like mini-elections to choose what candidates will run for each party."
      The purpose of the presidential primaries is determine how to apportion the delegates at the party's national convention to each of the candidates, it is not to winnow the field down to just one. Inevitably some candidates will decide to end their candidacy when they realize they have absolutely no chance of ever getting nominated.

      "The biggest problem I see with this US election is most of the attention is on Trump.."
      Trumo is the living proof of the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The problem is not with the elections. The problem is with the media. They are so intent on reporting of his gaffes, ridiculous statements and lack of political experience, and marginalizing him that instead of making him a laughingstock, the media are making him into a prominent candidate. The best thing the media could do to make Trump go away is to have a news blackout on him.

      "The main thing that worries me in American elections is lack of choice. "
      When it comes to politics, the attitude in the US seems to be "If it was good enough for grandpa, it's good enough for me." If you change anything about the process, you are messing with TRADITION. Since the US came into existence, it has been traditional to have two ruling parties. Over the years American voters have been brainwashed into believing that the two party system is the best thing ever. Iwas going to say "since sliced bread" but the two party system in the US has existed for at least a hundred years before sliced bread was invented. Other parties are allowed to exist but not allowed to get so big as to challenge the two major ones.

      We live in a democracy which supposedly allows us the freedom of choice. But when it comes to political parties, we have a similar choice to the one that Henry Ford gave prospective car owners, we can choose any party as long as it is either the Democrats or the Republicans.

      A multi-party system would give the hoi poloi a wider choice of view points but it would mean loss of power and control for the Republicans and Democrats. Politicians would actually have to work for a living by trying to integrate multiple viewpoints. There would no longer be an either/or situation; you vote for my proposal this time and I will vote for yours next time around.

      In the US the system is rigged to prevent the rise of strong, true third parties. In most states the Republicans and Democrats have passed laws that place onerous requirements on third parties to get on the ballot. The ruling hegemony rarely, if ever, is willing to share the power.

      Only one candidate ever got elected on a third party platform and that was Theodore Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party. But even the Bull Moose Party was not a real third party, in the sense of the Green Party or the Communist Party with its own different political beliefs. Bull Moose or Progressive Party split off from the Republican Party by Roosevelt when the Republicans would not nominate him as their candidate.

    • Justin Pot
      February 1, 2016 at 3:00 pm

      Keefe: it's worth noting that California re-did its primary system for legislative elections to do just that: the top two candidates make it to the general, regardless of party. It's had a lot of different results, too complex to get into here, but look into it if you're interested.

      I live in the US now, but grew up in Canada. It's worth noting that coverage of the US presidential election here started before the Canadian election was even announced, and the Canadian election finished months ago.

      • Anonymous
        February 1, 2016 at 7:25 pm

        IIRC, for a period of time in US history, multiple candidates ran for the Presidency. The candidate who received the most votes became POTUS, the candidate with the next most votes, regardless of party became the VP. At times, it must have made for some strange bedfellows. Eventually the laws were changed to allow (require?) the candidates for the two positions to run as a team.

        • Justin Pot
          February 1, 2016 at 9:55 pm

          I think you're right, I know the 2nd place candidate used to be VP anyway. Really strange when you think about it, particularly when you remember the VP becomes President if the President dies...bad incentives there.

  3. Jeanne Thelwell
    January 30, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    For years I have found to be an excellent resource. In addition to poll analysis, the webmaster makes the raw data available to download, if you want to analyze it yourself.

    • Justin Pot
      February 1, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      That's a pretty good site! If I do a follow-up to this piece about the general election I'll be sure to include it.

  4. Anonymous
    January 30, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    What's to understand? The primaries is a 6 month long circus in which a bunch of careerist, self-serving politician clowns sling mud at each other and compete in who can tell more bigger lies to convince we-the-sheeple that one of them is worthy the party's nomination.

    • Justin Pot
      January 30, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      I've never seen a comment include the word "sheeple" and thought "hmm, that's a nuanced point of view". I wonder why that is?

      Then again, seeing how a certain real estate developer is positioned in the polls this year, you might have a point.

      • Anonymous
        January 30, 2016 at 5:36 pm

        "seeing how a certain real estate developer is positioned in the polls this year, you might have a point."
        Yes, Trump is a pompous buffoon. However, he will not have to dance to the tune of those who bankrolled him because he is mostly self-financed. Which of the other candidates of either party can say that? Trump is not a career politician who advances from one trough to another to another. Many people are saying that because he is not a career politician, he has no "experience." As far as we the people are concerned, "experience" means that the individual has learned how to exploit the system to his or her advantage and screw the electorate in the process. Besides, none of the candidates have any experience as POTUS. So "lack of experience" is a red herring or a straw man.

        I'll grant you that Trump may be after the personal power the POTUS position will bring him. But, no matter how he is viewed, he does have some ideas other than the hackneyed ones that have been regurgitated and recycled for decades by professional politicians. We know exactly what we are going to get from the politicians, lots of fine sounding plans and promises, then return to the status quo of feeding at the public trough and screwing of the constituency.

        No matter what wacky and crazy ideas Trump may have now, if he gets elected, he cannot just snap his fingers have those ideas implemented. No POTUS has ever been able to do that. He has to convince a sufficient number of Congess members so that they will pass them and appropriate money for them. So there is no danger of Trump or anybody else that is elected POTUS to make any major changes to current policy.

      • Anonymous
        January 30, 2016 at 6:17 pm

        "I’ve never seen a comment include the word “sheeple” and thought “hmm, that’s a nuanced point of view”. I wonder why that is? "
        Does the word "sheeple" offend you? Yes, I am disgusted with American voters. Not because they do not elect my favorite candidates but because of the criteria they base their decision on.

        First of all, voting is our patriotic duty. Many people have died preserving our right to vote in free elections. For many Americans, voting is a chore. Voting turnout has been steadily going down over the years. IIRC, less than 40% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the last presidential election. Local elections are even worse. In some of them, only 10-20% of voters are sufficiently motivated to get their keister to the ballot box.

        Very few voters actually consider where a candidate stands on various issues. Of course it is hard to determine that because most candidate speeches and debates are dominated by mud slinging and name calling. Many people vote straight party line "My party right or wrong." Others vote for a candidate because (s)he is good looking or well-dressed or a polished speaker. People vote for or against a candidate because of his ethnic background or because of his religion. People voted for Gran and Eisenhower because they were war heroes. In case of Eisenhower, it worked out. In case of Grant, it did not. People voted for Nixon in 1960 because Kennedy was a Catholic. People voted for Kennedy because he was good looking and a good speaker. People will vote for anybody that promises them a chicken in every pot.

        • Justin Pot
          February 1, 2016 at 3:22 pm

          It doesn't offend me, far from it. It just strikes me as over-simplifying a complex system by blaming its problems on the people. Which isn't to say that the people could be better informed, or more engaged: they could. But the sort of person who calls them "sheeple" is rarely offering solutions, just complaints. But that's not me being offended: it's me recognizing a pattern.

          Anyway, you've got some great points here, and I bet we'd agree on a lot of things in a face-to-face discussion. Keep on being you.