How does a U.S. presidential candidate get chosen?

The process for choosing a Presidential candidate for the 2024 U.S. election is now underway, after Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump has won the Iowa caucuses.

Donald Trump has won the Iowa caucus, bringing the Republican party a step closer to determining its presidential candidate in the U.S. election.

Over the coming months, each U.S. state will hold votes to decide who will lead the Republican party in this year’s election, known as the primary elections.

The first U.S. state to cast votes for the Republican candidacy was Iowa. Polling has widely picked Trump as the national favourite, despite his numerous legal challenges.

What is a primary?

Each of the 50 states in the U.S. has its own rules in the lead-up to a presidential election.

Most U.S. states hold a vote called a “primary” ballot to select a presidential candidate — known as a party’s nominee.

Primary ballots can be “open” or “closed”.

Closed vs. Open

During an open primary, any registered voter can have their say. This occurs in states including Hawai’i and Texas.

Closed primaries are limited to registered members of a party, leaving a smaller pool of voters than a general election. States like Florida and New York hold these.

Some states, like Maine, have a mix of closed and open, when unaffiliated voters (who aren’t signed up to a party) can vote. However, anyone registered with a party can’t vote — Democrats can’t vote in a Republican contest and vice versa.


Some states conduct caucuses instead of primaries in the months leading up to a presidential election.

Unlike state-run primaries, caucuses are run by political parties — one is run as an election (primaries) and the other is run as a political meeting (caucuses).

Voting in a caucus is different to voting in a primary.

Registered party members are eligible to participate in state caucuses. Parties hold meetings where votes are cast. By contrast, voters cast their ballot in private during a primary ballot.

In state caucuses, a representative for each candidate can give a brief speech before ballots are handed out to voters.

Depending on the state, voters either divide themselves into groups based on which candidate they support or vote by secret ballot. Votes are collected and counted in front of the caucus.

Key upcoming dates

  • 15 January: Iowa Republican Caucus, the first vote
  • 23 January: New Hampshire primary
  • 5 March: Super Tuesday (more on the next slide)
  • 8 June: Final primaries in the U.S. territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands.

Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday (5 March) is a polling day when primary elections are held in multiple states.

This year, there will be 16 races on Super Tuesday, in states including Alaska, California, Texas, and Virginia.

It’s considered a major test for presidential candidates.


During primaries, candidates seek to win as many of their party’s “delegates” as possible. Like a points system, there is a total number of delegates a candidate can win in each state, based on how many votes they get.

As a result, the number of points (delegates) a candidate can win typically depends on a state’s size. For example, Republican candidates in California (population: 39 million) compete for 169 delegate votes. In New Jersey, (population: 9.2 million) there are 9 delegates.

The Republican candidate needs to win 1,215 delegates (a majority of the total number of available ‘points’) to win the presidential nomination.

National conventions

After the primaries, presidential and vice presidential nominees are chosen at each party’s national conventions. At the convention, state delegates vote to confirm their choice of candidates.

This year, the Republican National Convention will take place in Milwaukee between 15-18 July.

Meanwhile, Chicago will host the Democrat Convention from 19-22 August, where President Joe Biden is expected to be chosen as his party’s candidate for the 2024 White House race.

The U.S. election will be on 5 November.

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