There are two types of election campaigns. There is the primary and the general election campaign. The primary is an election of one or more candidates of a particular party seeking an elected office. The winners of each party’s primary election (and any independent candidates) goes on to run in the general election.

The general election is where voters of all parties participate decides the final winner to hold elected office.

Here are some basic questions and answers about primary and general elections:

What is the purpose of a primary election?

The purpose of a primary is for members of a political party to nominate one or more candidates for the general election. If you are running for office and there are multiple candidates from your party, a primary is a way to narrow the field of candidates.

A primary election can also be used as an opportunity to elect party officers.

How is an open primary different than a closed primary?

The difference is basically which party’s primary registered voters are allowed to vote. In an open primary, any registered voter to cast their ballot in either party’s primary. In a closed primary, only voters registered with a particular party vote are allowed to participate in that party’s primary. Eleven states – Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, District of Columbia, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming – have closed primaries.

For example, if you live in Texas, which has an open primary system, you can choose to vote in the Democrat or Republican primary. However, if you were in New York, which has a closed primary system, you could only vote in the primary of your registered party.

There are also semi-closed primaries that allow unaffiliated (independent) voters to participate. Depending on the state, independents either choose the party primary they want to participate in the voting booth or by registering with a party on Election Day. Fourteen states have semi-closed primaries that allow voters to register or change party preference on election day.

What is the biggest difference between a primary election v general election?

General elections tend to have a higher voter turnout than primary elections. In recent national elections in the US, about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years. But only about 40% votes during midterm elections. Turnout tends to be lower during odd years, and for primary and local elections.


Primary election strategies for local office

To win office, sometimes even local candidates have to campaign twice. Great – twice the work for just one election.

The exact nature of your primary will determine your campaign strategy. Is there an open seat? Are you running against a strong incumbent? Factors include long has the incumbent been in office, their general popularity and if they have particular weaknesses of which you can take advantage.

What is the nature of your local election law? For example, in a three or more candidate primary, the rules might make it a ‘winner take all’. The candidate with the most votes wins, even if it isn’t 50% of the votes.

There are municipal elections, for example, for town or city council where the candidates that garner the most votes win the open seats.

In other cases, there may be a runoff in which no candidate get 50% + 1 votes. (How will you deal with that possibility?) A primary runoff is a second primary election conducted to determine which of the top vote-getters in the first primary will be awarded the party nomination for an office.

Start Your Digital Campaign

  • You need to figure out how many votes you need to win Once you do that, you’ll need to put together a solid campaign plan. This will encompass your positions, how your staff is arranged and how you will use your volunteers.
  • You’ll also need to raise money. Most local campaigns are small and do not have a lot of resources. A good chunk of your plan should be how to raise money from family and friends to start, and expand you donor base as you go along. Use your initial funds to get your campaign off the ground and to put your plan to work.
  • Print advertising is expensive. Many local campaigns use the internet to attract and target primary voters. The cost to entry is low. Having a campaign website and creating an active online presence lend legitimacy that you are a serious candidate to primary voters. Use Facebook, Twitter and email to communicate with others in the way that suits them best.

You’ve won your primary – Now what should you do?

Candidates work hard to secure a primary victory. Then they shift their campaigning for the general election. Many times a candidate does not want to put in the effort of pursuing online opportunities until after they’ve secured a primary.

For  example, you may be running unopposed in your party. Because of this, you may find little reason to put a lot of effort into early voter outreach. You figure that after you’ve won the primary, that will be the time to begin aggressive campaigning.

That campaigning strategy is a mistake.

General elections tend to have a higher voter turnout than primary elections. Even if a candidate is a shoo-in for a primary win, they still need to motivate those primary voters to show up for the general election. Especially those who did not vote for the candidate in the primary. Then it’s a matter of getting enough total votes to win.

Boost your online campaigning

  • A website makes it easier to win a primary.
    For the same reasons a campaign website will help a candidate win a  general election, it will also help in a primary. The focus of the site  will, of course, be somewhat different between the two campaigns. During  the primary, the focus will be on members of your party. Afterward, the focus can be tailored more toward the general electorate.
  • Starting early helps build momentum.
    If you plan on doing social networking, you should get your supporters on board as early as possible. By the time the general election rolls around, those supporters can help build larger momentum. Get out the vote (GOTV) efforts are much easier when you have volunteers lined up early.
  • Websites are great fundraising tools.
    The earlier a candidate starts raising money, the better. The barriers to entry are low. The costs are low. And the potential  upside is tremendous.
  • Your voters are online.
    Online is everywhere. Voters turn to the web for news, candidate, and  issue information. If you don’t establish yourself online, someone else  will.
  • Everyone else is doing it.
    Well, not everyone – yet. After the 2008 presidential election, interest in online campaigning exploded. Today, the political candidate who does not have an online presence is in the minority.

Online campaigning is a powerful way to reach supporters, raise donation money and motivate voters. If you are not leveraging the web, then you are missing a huge opportunity to engage voters.

These days, we are seeing candidates starting their online campaigns more than a year out from Election Day. They might not be actively campaigning, but they are laying a foundation for election season. They are starting social media accounts, registering domain names, building campaign web sites, growing email lists, and preparing to accept online donations.

Starting early is critical to building support that leads to success on Election Day. If you wait too long, you may find yourself playing catch-up on the home stretch.

Online Candidate provides an easy and affordable way to build online presence. Learn more about our political website packages.

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