Difference Between Open and Closed Primary

Primary Election or Primaries exist in various countries depending upon the type of election that country follows. This election is most prevalent in America where voters get the chance to elect the candidate either in the general election, local election or by-election. Here voters show their preference to the selected party members who are likely to get a vote. Primaries can be of various types i.e., open primary, closed primary, semi-open or semi-closed etc.

Open vs Closed Primary

The main difference between Open and Closed Primary is that in Open primary, voters belonging to affiliated parties can vote in the primary of any party. Whereas, in a Closed Primary, only those voters who are members of the affiliated party can vote in it. In an open primary, voters can cast their vote only one time. While in Closed Primary, they can vote as many times as voters want.

Open vs Closed Primary

Open Primary is a system of voting in which a registered voter of any affiliated party can give their vote to any party primary. In America, twenty-four states follow the open primary system. Because of its open nature of casting votes, raiding may occur. Open Primary is also helpful because voters of the opposition parties help people of party primary to know about the opponent and choose a candidate from the opposition party.

Closed Primary is a system of voting in which registered voters can vote only in the primary of the political party in which they are registered. People who are independent or doesn’t belong to any affiliated party cannot vote in a closed primary. But during the general elections, voters of closed primary can vote for another party. In America, there are 14 closed primary states. Because of registered voters party gets a number, an official record to see that how many members are there in its party.

Comparison Table Between Open and Closed Primary

Parameters of ComparisonOpen PrimaryClosed Primary
Voter TypeIndependent VotersRegistered voters
ParticipationDiscourages voter participationEncourages Voter Participation
PromotesPromotes ‘cross over’ voting.Promotes party unity
RestrictionsAllows any votersRestricted to only members
States in the USA2414

What is Open Primary?

Open Primary elections, voters of any party or voters who don’t belong to any party is neutral can vote in the primary of that party. They can vote for both partisan as well as non-partisan members. Voters need not be registered. They just need to pick up the ballot and start voting for the party. Voters can vote in only one primary election and not in another. Raiding can also occur in the open primary elections.

In America, there are twenty-four open primary states namely, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. Voters of Open primary has the greatest advantage because they can vote secretly for another party primary.

Open Primary elections have a disadvantage i.e., they discourage the participation of the voters because of their independent policy. It has the advantage that it promotes crossover voting in which voters of other parties can influence the voting of the primary party by giving the vote to the candidate who is weak so that the opposition parties can get the advantage of it.

What is Closed Primary?

Closed primary encourages the participation of voters. Because it is restricted to only registered voters. Closed primary members can only vote in the election of the primary party. States which have a closed primary system needs affiliation of the party so that voters get registered. This in turn helps the states to keep an official account of their voters.

Closed primary encourages the unity of the party. Because of its closed system, it ensures that the nomination and selection of the candidates of the primary party are influenced by only the members registered. However, sometimes it can also get affected at the initial stages but at the final stages, it is completely unhindered. In some cases and situations, a closed primary allows independent voters to vote for their party on the election day.

But they can do only if they are registered on Election day. They can change their affiliation but until that they should remain registered with the initial party. Many states allow their voters at the time of poll to switch their affiliation or change their party with the party primary. In that rare cases, closed primary sometimes resembles the features of semi-closed or open primary. Fourteen states in America are closed primary. They are Delaware, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

Main Differences Between Open and Closed Primary

  1. Open Primary support the participation of independent voters and allow them to vote without being registered with the party. Closed Primary allows the participation of only registered members/voters of a party.
  2. Open Primary usually discourages voter participation. But sometimes it is considered good because it allows non-partisan and independent voters to nominate. Closed Primary is usually considered as best for voter participation as it encourages it.
  3. Open Primary promotes cross over voting, blanket primary etc. Closed Primary promotes the unity of the party primary.
  4. Open Primary doesn’t have any restrictions it allows everybody to cast vote. But they can vote only one time. Closed Primary puts restrictions on independent voters. But they can vote in general elections sometimes.
  5. In the USA, there are 24 Open Primary states which include semi-open as well. There are 14 Closed Primary states in the USA including semi-closed.


Open and closed Primary are both part of the primary elections. They are usually different from general elections. Both open and closed primary mostly takes place in America. There this type of system is considered as best for selecting leaders. Closed Primary elections call for the loyalty of the members of the party. However, in semi-closed primary, it is a hybrid form of the closed primary in which registered voters can vote in any way they want. Open Primary is good for both partisan, non-partisan and independent voters. It is considered good because it gives chance to all the voters to rise in general elections. Closed Primary is considered good because it prevents raiding and selecting the weakest candidate for election.


  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/765107
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261379416300853
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