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So Many Contests

Primaries: By Invitation Only?

Primary season can be a wild ride. Voters narrow the field of candidates in contest after contest, while the parties use complicated rules to try to control who ultimately secures the nomination.

In the Republican primaries for the 2016 presidential election, there were too many candidates to fit on one stage in Cleveland. Ten debated on prime-time television, while seven others faced off earlier.

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In the primaries for the 2016 presidential election, there were too many Republican presidential candidates to fit on one stage in Cleveland. Ten debated on prime-time television, while seven others faced off earlier.

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OBJECTIVE: Students will understand how the primary process works, its evolution and the tension between party leaders and voters for control of the outcome.

MATERIALS: Copies of the case study handout, one per student (download); Organizing Evidence worksheet, one per group (download); access to case study artifacts; NewseumED Pinterest board of related resources (optional)


  1. Ask students what they know about the bumpy road from presidential candidate to party nominee. What steps and events do contenders have to go through?
  2. This case study is one of four in the Election Procedures section of the EDCollection that covers: declaring candidacy, competing in primaries and caucuses, being nominated at the national convention, and the final weeks of wooing voters before the general election. Explain that the case study they will be looking at will raise questions about how democratic our presidential election system is.
  3. Read the Explore the Debate question aloud and/or write it on the board. Read them the overview that sets the scene for group work. Tell them they will use historical and contemporary examples to reach a consensus in small groups on an answer to the debate question.
  4. Pass out copies of the case study and the Organizing Evidence worksheet. Have the groups read each of the four Election Essentials and use the Questions to Consider to help guide the discussion. They should complete sections 1 and 2 on the worksheet.
  5. Have the students look at the Pages From History artifacts for the case study on and complete section 3 on the worksheet. Give the groups 15 minutes to collect and organize information to formulate evidence-supported arguments for their answer to the debate question. (If time is an issue, skip the artifacts or assign as homework.)
  6. Ask the groups to share their conclusions and reasoning. You may want to use the Questions to Consider again to push and expand the debate.

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Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

To request a large print or Braille version, call 202.292.6650.

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