Primary watch: number of contested state legislative primaries is up 41% compared to 2020

The number of contested state legislative primaries is up 41% this year compared to 2020. Democratic primaries are down 6%, Republican primaries are up 76%, and top-two/four primaries are up 18%.

These figures include data from 16 states that account for 1,850 of the 6,166 state legislative seats up for election this year (30%).

A primary is contested when more candidates file to run than nominations available, meaning at least one candidate must lose.

Three states in this analysis have Democratic trifectas, 10 have Republican trifectas, and three have divided governments.

Of the 16 states in this analysis, 14 are holding partisan primaries. Two states—California and Nebraska—use top-two primaries.

The number of Democratic primaries has increased in six states, decreased in six, and remains the same in two. The number of Republican primaries has increased in 13 states and decreased in one. The table below shows partisan statistics for the three states with the largest increases and decreases so far.

In addition to a state’s political makeup and party activity, redistricting is another reason for an increase in primary competitiveness.

After redistricting, some states—like Arkansas—hold elections for every district, while in other years, fewer districts are up each cycle. This creates more opportunities for primaries to occur. Or, like in West Virginia, redistricting creates new districts and, by extension, more primary opportunities.

Ballotpedia will continue to update these figures as information becomes available. In addition to this analysis, Ballotpedia collects competitiveness statistics at all levels of government, available here. This data is calculated following candidate filing deadlines and readjusted at the time of the primary to account for any changes to candidate lists.