The NCSL Blog


By Amanda Zoch

Now that the dust has settled on Iowa's raucous caucuses, let’s take a step back to survey how presidential nomination processes across the nation have changed from 2016 to 2020.

The biggest change? Far fewer caucuses in 2020 than 2016, for both Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats, in particular, are moving away from caucuses after 2016, when high turnout overwhelmed many locations and hindered voters’ participation. Critics of the caucus system also point out that people who work evenings, need childcare or have disabilities face more general barriers to caucus participation.

In 2016, Democratic parties used presidential caucuses in 14 states. In 2020, 11 of those states have instead opted for primaries, leaving just three states—Iowa, Nevada and Wyoming—with traditional caucuses. The Democratic National Committee's new rules allowed for some type of virtual caucus, but those alternatives were scrapped due to security concerns, and the three states holding caucuses will use the traditional in-person format.

Republicans, too, are using fewer caucuses this year. Thirteen states held caucuses in 2016, while only five will use them in 2020—Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, North Dakota and Wyoming. Five of the states that held caucuses in 2016—Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Utah and Washington—shifted to presidential primaries, and three—Alaska, Kansas and Nevada—canceled them because President Donald Trump is running for a second term. (Arizona, South Carolina and Virginia also canceled their primaries, a not unprecedented decision).

For more information on primaries, see our Canvass article about the changes to presidential primaries from 2016 to 2020, as well as our pages on 2020 presidential and state primary dates and state primary types.

States Holding Primaries vs. Caucuses, 2016 to 2020

Democrats 2016

Democrats 2020

Republicans 2016

Republicans 2020






Party-run primary





Party caucus





No presidential
preference vote





Amanda Zoch is an NCSL legislative policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.

Email Amanda

Actions: E-mail | Permalink |

Subscribe to the NCSL Blog

Click on the RSS feed at left to add the NCSL Blog to your favorite RSS reader. 

About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.