ⓘ 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries

2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries

ⓘ 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries

The 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries and caucuses were a series of electoral contests organized by the Democratic Party to select the 4.051 delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention held July 25–28 and determine the nominee for President of the United States in the 58th U.S. presidential election. The elections took place within all fifty U.S. states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and Democrats Abroad and occurred between February 1 and June 14, 2016.

A total of six major candidates entered the race starting April 12, 2015, when former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton formally announced her second bid for the presidency. She was followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Governor of Maryland Martin OMalley, former Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig. A draft movement was started to encourage Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to seek the presidency, but Warren declined to run, as did incumbent Vice President Joe Biden. Webb, Chafee, and Lessig withdrew prior to the February 1, 2016, Iowa caucuses.

Clinton won Iowa by the closest margin in the history of the states Democratic caucus. OMalley suspended his campaign after a distant third-place finish, leaving Clinton and Sanders as the only two candidates. The race turned out to be more competitive than expected, with Sanders decisively winning New Hampshire, while Clinton subsequently won Nevada and won a landslide victory in South Carolina. Clinton then secured numerous important wins in each of the nine most populous states including California, New York, Florida, and Texas, while Sanders scored various victories in between. He then laid off a majority of staff after the New York primary and Clintons multi-state sweep on April 26. On June 6, the Associated Press and NBC News stated that Clinton had become the presumptive nominee after reaching the required number of delegates, including both pledged and unpledged delegates superdelegates, to secure the nomination. In doing so, she became the first woman to ever be the presumptive nominee of any major political party in the United States. On June 7, Clinton officially secured a majority of pledged delegates after winning in the California and New Jersey primaries. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren formally endorsed Clinton on June 9. Sanders confirmed on June 24 that he would vote for Clinton over Donald Trump in the general election and formally endorsed Clinton on July 12 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

On July 22, WikiLeaks published the Democratic National Committee email leak, in which DNC operatives seemed to deride Bernie Sanders campaign and discuss ways to advance Clintons nomination, leading to the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other implicated officials. The leak was allegedly part of an operation by the Russian government to undermine Hillary Clinton. Although the ensuing controversy initially focused on emails that dated from relatively late in the primary, when Clinton was already close to securing the nomination, the emails cast doubt on the DNCs neutrality and, according to Sanders operatives and multiple media commentators, showed that the DNC had favored Clinton since early on. This was evidenced by alleged bias in the scheduling and conduct of the debates, as well as controversial DNC–Clinton agreements regarding financial arrangements and control over policy and hiring decisions. Other media commentators have disputed the significance of the emails, arguing that the DNCs internal preference for Clinton was not historically unusual and didnt affect the primary enough to sway the outcome. The controversies ultimately led to the formation of a DNC "unity" commission to recommend reforms in the partys primary process.

On July 26, 2016, the Democratic National Convention officially nominated Clinton for president and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine for vice president. On November 8, 2016, Republican nominee Donald Trump defeated Clinton in the general election.


1. Candidates

Other candidates results

The following candidates were frequently interviewed by news channels and were invited to forums and candidate debates. For reference, Clinton received 16.849.779 votes in the primaries.

Other candidates participated in one or more state primaries without receiving major coverage or substantial vote counts.


2.1. Timeline Background

In the weeks following the re-election of President Obama in the 2012 election, media speculation regarding potential candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 presidential election began to circulate. The speculation centered on the prospects of Clinton, then-Secretary of State, making a second presidential bid in the 2016 election. Clinton had previously served as a U.S. Senator for New York 2001–09 and was the First Lady of the U.S. 1993–2001. A January 2013 Washington Post –ABC News poll indicated that she had high popularity among the American public. This polling information prompted numerous political pundits and observers to anticipate that Clinton would mount a second presidential bid in 2016, entering the race as the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination. From the partys liberal left wing came calls for a more progressive candidate to challenge what was perceived by many within this segment as the partys establishment. Elizabeth Warren quickly became a highly touted figure within this movement as well as the object of a draft movement to run in the primaries, despite her repeated denials of interest in doing so. The campaign Run Warren Run announced that it would disband on June 8, 2015, opting to focus its efforts toward progressive issues. The draft campaigns New Hampshire staffer, Kurt Ehrenberg, had joined Sanders team and most of the remaining staffers were expected to follow suit. Given the historical tendency for sitting vice presidents to seek the presidency in election cycles in which the incumbent president is not a candidate, there was also considerable speculation regarding a potential presidential run by incumbent Vice President Joe Biden, who had previously campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in the election cycles of 1988 and 2008. This speculation was further fueled by Bidens own expressions of interest in a possible run in 2016. However, on October 21, 2015, speaking from a podium in the Rose Garden with his wife and President Obama by his side, Biden announced his decision not to enter the race, as he was still dealing with the loss of his son, Beau, who died weeks earlier at the age of 47.

On May 26, 2015, Sanders officially announced his run as a presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination, after an informal announcement on April 30 and speculation since early 2014. Sanders had previously served as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont 1981–89, Vermonts sole U.S. Representative 1991–2007 and Vermonts junior Senator 2007–present. He emerged as the biggest rival to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, backed by a strong grassroots campaign and a social media following. In November 2014, Jim Webb, a former U.S. Senator who had once served as the U.S. Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, announced the formation of an exploratory committee in preparation for a possible run for the Democratic presidential nomination. This made Webb the first major potential candidate to take a formal action toward seeking the partys 2016 nomination. Martin OMalley, former Governor of Maryland as well as a former Mayor of Baltimore, made formal steps toward a campaign for the partys nomination in January 2015 with the hiring and retaining of personnel who had served the previous year as political operatives in Iowa – the first presidential nominating state in the primary elections cycle – as staff for his political action committee PAC. OMalley had started the "O’ Say Can You See" PAC in 2012 which had, prior to 2015, functioned primarily as fundraising vehicles for various Democratic candidates, as well as for two 2014 ballot measures in Maryland. With the 2015 staffing moves, the PAC ostensibly became a vehicle for OMalley – who had for several months openly contemplated a presidential bid – to lay the groundwork for a potential campaign for the partys presidential nomination. In August 2015, Lawrence Lessig unexpectedly announced his intention to enter the race, promising to run if his exploratory committee raised $1 million by Labor Day. After accomplishing this, Lessig formally announced his campaign. He described his candidacy as a referendum on electoral reform legislation, prioritizing a single issue: the Citizen Equality Act of 2017, a proposal that couples campaign finance reform with other laws aimed at curbing gerrymandering and ensuring voting access.


2.2. Timeline February 2016: early primaries

Despite being heavily favored in polls issued weeks earlier, Clinton was only able to defeat Sanders in the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus by the closest margin in the history of the contest: 49.8% to 49.6% Clinton collected 700.47 state delegate equivalents to Sanders 696.92, a difference of one quarter of a percentage point. This led to speculation that she won due to six coin-toss tiebreakers all resulting in her favor. However the only challenge to the caucus results was in a single precinct, which gave Clinton a fifth delegate.

The victory, which was projected to award her 23 pledged national convention delegates two more than Sanders, made Clinton the first woman to win the Caucus and marked a clear difference from 2008, where she finished in third place behind Obama and John Edwards. Martin OMalley suspended his campaign after a disappointing third-place finish with only 0.5% of the state delegate equivalents awarded, leaving Clinton and Sanders the only two major candidates in the race. A week later, Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, receiving 60.4% of the popular vote to Clintons 38%, putting him ahead of Clinton in the overall pledged delegate count by four, and making him the first Jewish candidate of a major party to win a primary. Hillary Clintons loss in New Hampshire was a regression from 2008, when she defeated Obama, Edwards, and a handful of other candidates including Joe Biden with 39% of the popular vote.

Sanders narrow loss in Iowa and victory in New Hampshire generated speculation about a possible loss for Clinton in Nevada, the next state to hold its caucuses on February 20. For her part, Clinton, who had won the state eight years prior in the 2008 Nevada Democratic caucuses, hoped that a victory would allay concerns about a possible repetition of 2008, when she ultimately lost to Obama despite entering the primary season as the favorite for the nomination. Ultimately, Clinton emerged victorious with 52.6% of the county delegates, a margin of victory similar to her performance in 2008. Sanders, who attained 47.3% of the vote, was projected to receive five fewer pledged delegates than Clinton and the result was not promising for the following weekends primary in South Carolina, more demographically favorable to Clinton than the prior contests. On February 27, Clinton won the South Carolina primary with 73.5% of the vote, receiving a larger percentage of the African American vote than Barack Obama had eight years earlier – 90% to Obamas 80%.


2.3. Timeline March 1, 2016: Super Tuesday

The 2016 primary schedule was significantly different from that of 2008. During that election cycle, many states moved their primaries or caucuses to earlier in the calendar to have greater influence over the race. In 2008, February 5 was the earliest date allowed by the Democratic National Committee, leading 23 states and territories to move their elections to that date, the biggest Super Tuesday to ever take place. For 2016, the calendar was more disparate than it was in 2008, with several groups of states voting on different dates, the most important being March 1, March 15, April 26 and June 7. The day with the most contests was March 1, 2016, in which primaries or caucuses were held in 11 states including six in the Southern United States and American Samoa. A total of 865 pledged delegates were at stake.

Clinton secured victories in all of the southern contests except Oklahoma. Her biggest victory of the day came in Alabama, where she won 77.8% of the vote against Sanders 19.2%, although her most significant delegate prize came from Texas, where she received 65.2% of the vote with strong support from non-white as well as white voters. Collectively, the southern states gave Clinton a net gain of 165 pledged delegates. Apart from the South, Clinton also narrowly defeated Sanders in Massachusetts, as well as winning in the territory of American Samoa. Sanders scored comfortable wins in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and Oklahoma primary and won an 86.1%–13.6% landslide in his home state of Vermont - one of only two times either of the two main candidates missed the 15% threshold in a state or territory, with the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Clinton received over 87% of the vote, being the other one. Although the results overall were unfavorable for Sanders, his four wins and narrow loss allowed him to remain in the race in anticipation of more favorable territory in New England, the Great Plains, Mountain States and the Pacific Northwest. At the end of the day, Clinton collected 518 pledged delegates to Sanders 347, taking her lead to 609–412, a difference of 197 pledged delegates.


2.4. Timeline Mid-March contests

Sanders found more hospitable ground on the weekend of March 5, 2016, winning caucuses in Kansas, Maine and Nebraska by significant margins. Clinton answered with an even larger win in Louisianas primary, limiting Sanders net gain for the weekend to only four delegates. Clinton would also win the Northern Mariana Islands caucus, held the following weekend on March 12. Two states had held nominating contests on March 8 – Michigan and Mississippi – with Clinton heavily favored to win both. Mississippi went for Clinton, as expected, by a landslide margin. The Mississippi primary was the highest vote share Clinton won in any state. However, Sanders stunned by scoring a narrow win in Michigan. Analysts floated a number of theories to explain the failure of the Michigan polling, with most centering on pollsters erroneous assumptions about the composition of the electorate stemming from the 2008 primary in Michigan not having been contested due to an impasse between the state party and DNC. Although Clinton expanded her delegate lead, some journalists suggested Sanders upset might presage her defeat in other delegate-rich Midwestern states, such as Missouri, Ohio and Illinois, who voted a week later on March 15, along with North Carolina and Florida, where Clinton was more clearly favored. Clinton was able to sweep all five primaries, extending her pledged delegate lead by around 100 delegates, although Sanders was able to hold Clinton to narrow margins in her birth-state of Illinois and especially Missouri, where Clinton won by a mere 0.2 points. Missouri state law allowed for a possible recount had any of the candidates requested it; however, Sanders forwent the opportunity on the basis that it would not significantly affect the delegate allocation. By the end of the evening, Clinton had expanded her pledged delegate lead to more than 320, several times larger than her greatest deficit in the 2008 primary.


2.5. Timeline Late March and early April

Following the March 15 primaries, the race moved to a series of contests more favorable for Sanders. On March 21, the results of the Democrats Abroad primary held March 1–8 were announced. Sanders was victorious and picked up nine delegates to Clintons four, closing his delegate deficit by five. Arizona, Idaho and Utah held primaries on March 22, dubbed "Western Tuesday" by media. Despite continued efforts by Sanders to close the gap in Arizona after his surprise win in Michigan, Clinton won the primary with 56.3% of the vote. However, Clinton lost both Idaho and Utah by roughly 60 points, allowing Sanders to close his delegate deficit by 25.

The next states to vote were Alaska, Hawaii and Washington on March 26, 2016. All three states were considered as favorable for Sanders, and most political analysts expected him to win them all, given the demographics and Sanders strong performance in previous caucuses. Sanders finished the day with a net gain of roughly 66 delegates over Clinton. His largest win was in Alaska, where he defeated Clinton with 82% of the vote, although the majority of his delegate gain came from the considerably more populous state of Washington, which he won by a 46% margin, outperforming then-Senator Obamas 2008 results, when he defeated Clinton 68%–31%. The Clinton and Sanders campaigns reached an agreement on April 4 for a ninth debate to take place on April 14 five days before the New York primary in Brooklyn, New York, which would air on CNN and NY1. On April 5, Sanders won the Wisconsin primary by 14 points, closing his delegate deficit by 10 more. The Wyoming caucuses were held on April 9, which Sanders won with 55.7% of the state convention delegates choosing him; however, Clinton had a stronger showing than expected, given her demographic disadvantage and that she did not campaign personally in the state. Each candidate was estimated to have earned 7 of Wyomings 14 pledged delegates.


2.6. Timeline Late April and May

On April 19, Clinton won New York by 16 points. While Sanders performed well in Upstate New York and with younger voters, Clinton performed well among all other age groups and non-whites, and she won a majority in all boroughs of New York City.

Five Northeastern states held primaries a week later on April 26. The day was dubbed the "Super Tuesday III" or the "Acela Primary" after Amtraks Acela Express train service that connects these states. Clinton won in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut while Sanders won the Rhode Island primary.

On May 3, Sanders pulled off a surprise victory in the Indiana primary, winning over Clinton by a five-point margin despite trailing in all the states polls. Clinton then won the Guam caucus on May 7 and, on May 10, she won the non-binding Nebraska primary while Sanders won in West Virginia.

Clinton narrowly won Kentucky on May 17 by half a percentage point and gained one delegate, after heavily campaigning in the state. On the same day, Sanders won his second closed primary in Oregon where he gained nine delegates, a net gain of eight on the day. Clinton then went on to win the non-binding Washington primary on May 24.


2.7. Timeline June contests

June contained the final contests of the Democratic primaries, and both Sanders and Clinton invested heavily into winning the California primary. Clinton led the polls in California but some predicted a narrow race. On June 4 and 5, Clinton won two decisive victories in the Virgin Islands caucus and Puerto Rico primary. On June 6, both the Associated Press and NBC News reported that Clinton had sufficient support from pledged and unpledged delegates to become the presumptive Democratic nominee. Clintons campaign seemed reluctant to accept the mantle of "presumptive nominee" before all the voting was concluded, while Sanders campaign stated it would continue to run and accused the media of a "rush to judgement." Six states held their primaries on June 7. Clinton won in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Sanders won Montana and North Dakota, the latter being the only caucus contest held on that day. Clinton finally declared victory on the evening of June 7, as the results ensured that she had won a majority of the pledged delegates and the popular vote. Sanders stated he would continue to run for the Democratic Partys nomination in the final primary in the District of Columbia on June 14, which Clinton won. Both campaigns met at a downtown Washington D.C. hotel after the primary. The Sanders campaign said that they would release a video statement on June 16 to clarify the future of Sanders campaign; the video announced that Sanders looked forward to help Clinton defeat Trump. On July 12, 2016, Sanders endorsed Clinton in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


2.8. Timeline Email leaks

On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released online tens of thousands of messages leaked from the e-mail accounts of seven key DNC staff. Some e-mails showed two DNC staffers discussing the possibility that Sanders possible atheism might harm him in a general election with religious voters. Others showed a few staffers had expressed personal preferences that Clinton should become the nominee, suggesting that the partys leadership had worked to undermine Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz called the accusations lies. The furor raised over this matter escalated to Wasserman Schultzs resignation ahead of the convention, and that of Marshals, Dacey, and Communications Director Luis Miranda afterwards. Following Wasserman Schultzs resignation, then-DNC Vice Chair Donna Brazile took over as interim DNC chairwoman for the convention and remained so until February 2017. In November 2017, Brazile said in her book and related interviews that the Clinton campaign and the DNC had colluded unethically by giving the Clinton campaign control over the DNCs personnel and press releases before the primary in return for funding to eliminate the DNCs remaining debt from 2012 campaign, in addition to using the DNC and state committees to funnel campaign-limitation-exceeding donations to her campaign. Internal memos later surfaced, claiming that these measures were not meant to affect the nominating process despite their timing. At the end of June 2016, it was claimed that "more money will be moved to the state parties in the coming months." Brazile later clarified that she claimed the process was unethical, but not a criminal act.

DNC officials including chairman Tom Perez pointed out that the same joint-fundraising agreement had been offered to Sanders and applied only to the general election; however, the Clinton campaign also had a second agreement that granted it additional, unusual oversight over hiring and policy, even though the text of the agreement insisted on the DNCs impartiality and focus on the general election. Brazile later denied that the primary was rigged, because "no votes were overturned," but described herself as "very upset" about a DNC–Clinton fundraising agreement. The Washington Post characterized Braziles eventual argument as: "Clinton exerted too much power but did win the nomination fairly."


2.9. Timeline Russian involvement

After the general election, the U.S. intelligence community and the Special Counsel investigation assessed that the leaks were part of a larger interference campaign by the Russian government to cause political instability in the United States and to damage the Hillary Clinton campaign by bolstering the candidacies of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Jill Stein. The Russian government is alleged to have promoted Sanders beginning in 2015 as a way to weaken or defeat Clinton, who Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed. The influence campaign by the Internet Research Agency targeted Sanders voters through social media and encouraged them to vote for a third party candidate or abstain from voting. Sanders denounced these efforts and urged his supporters to support Clinton in the general election.

When news of the DNC hack first surfaced in June 2016, the Russian government denied allegations of any involvement. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange also stated that the Russian government was not source of the leak. In July 2018, the special counsel indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking and leaking the emails.


2.10. Timeline National Convention

The 2016 Democratic National Convention was held from July 25–28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, with some events at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The delegates selected the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees and wrote the party platform. A simple majority of 2.383 delegates was needed to win the presidential nomination. While most of the delegates were bound on the first ballot according to the results of the primaries, a progressively larger number of pledged delegates would have become unbound if the nomination required more than one ballot. Clinton was nominated on the first ballot by acclamation, although all states were allowed to announce how they would have voted under a typical roll call vote. On July 12, 2016, the Vermont delegates had supported Clinton in Sanders request; asking for party unity, he dropped out on July 26, 2016 and announced he would return to the Senate as an independent.


3. Campaign finance

This is an overview of the money used in the campaign as it is reported to Federal Election Commission FEC and released on April 27, 2016. Outside groups are independent expenditure only committees - also called PACs and SuperPACs. Several such groups normally support each candidate, but the numbers in the table are a total of all of them. This means that a group of committees can be shown as technically insolvent shown in red even though it is not the case of all of them. The Campaign Committees debt are shown in red if the campaign is technically insolvent. The source of all the numbers is Center for Responsive Politics. Some spending totals are not available, due to withdrawals before the FEC deadline.


4. Process

The Democratic Party presidential primaries and caucuses are indirect elections in which voters elect delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention; these delegates in turn directly elect the Democratic Partys presidential nominee. In some states, the party may disregard voters selection of delegates or selected delegates may vote for any candidate at the state or national convention non-binding primary or caucus. In other states, state laws and party rules require the party to select delegates according to votes, and delegates must vote for a particular candidate binding primary or caucus. There are 4.051 pledged delegates and 714 superdelegates in the 2016 cycle. Under the partys delegate selection rules, the number of pledged delegates allocated to each of the 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. is determined using a formula based on three main factors:

  • The number of electoral votes each state has in the United States Electoral College.
  • The proportion of votes each state gave to the Democratic candidate in the last three presidential elections 2004, 2008, and 2012
  • The stage of the primary season when they held their contest. States and territories that held their contests later are given bonus seats.

A candidate must win 2.383 delegates at the national convention, in order to win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. For the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and for Democrats Abroad, fixed numbers of pledged delegates are allocated. All states and territories then must have used a proportional representation system, where their pledged delegates were awarded proportionally to the election results. A candidate must receive at least 15% of the popular vote to win pledged delegates in a state. The current 714 unpledged superdelegates or "soft" delegates included members of the United States House of Representatives and Senate, state and territorial governors, members of the Democratic National Committee, and other party leaders. Because of possible deaths, resignations, or the results of intervening or special elections, the final number of these superdelegates may be reduced before the convention. The Democratic National Committee also imposed rules for states that wished to hold early contests in 2016. No state was be permitted to hold a primary or caucus in January and only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada were entitled to February contests. Any state that violated these rules were penalized half its pledged delegates and all its superdelegates to the 2016 convention.


5. Schedule and results

The following are the results of candidates that won at least one state. These candidates were on the ballots for every state, territory and federal district contest. The results of caucuses did not always have attached preference polls and attendance was extremely limited. The unpledged delegate count did not always reflect the latest declared preferences.


6. Superdelegate endorsements

Superdelegates are elected officials and members of the Democratic National Committee who vote at the Democratic National Convention for their preferred candidate. Also known as unpledged delegates, they comprise 15% of the convention 712 votes out of 4.763 and they may change their preference at any time. The table below reflects current public endorsements of candidates by superdelegates, as detailed and sourced in the full list above. Because commonly referenced estimates of superdelegate support, including those by CNN and the AP, do not identify individual delegates as supporting a given candidate, their published tallies may differ from the totals computed here.

Note: Democrats Abroad Superdelegates are assigned half-votes; each of them accounts for ½ rather than 1 in the table above.

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