An update on contested primary data

Welcome to the Wednesday, May 18, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Number of contested state legislative primaries is up 41% compared to 2020
  2. We’ve got May 17 primary election results!
  3. Arkansas has most incumbents in contested U.S. House primaries in at least a decade

Number of contested state legislative primaries is up 41% compared to 2020

Earlier this month, we looked at the number of contested Republican and Democratic state legislative primaries in 14 states this year compared to 2020. At that time, we found the number of state legislative primaries was up 38%. We’ve since then added two more states to the data—Arizona and North Dakota —let’s take a look at the update. The number of contested state legislative primaries is now up 41% this year compared to 2020.

This research includes primary election competitiveness data from 16 states that held elections in 2020. These states account for 1,850 of the 6,166 state legislative seats up for election this year (30%). In those 16 states, Democratic primaries are down 6%, while Republican primaries are up 76%. Top-two/four primaries are up 18%. 

We count primaries as 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.

We’ll continue to update these figures as information becomes available. In addition to this analysis, we collect competitiveness statistics at all levels of government, which you can find 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.

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We’ve got May 17 primary election results! 

On Tuesday, voters in five states—Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania—went to the polls, and our team stayed up late into the night collecting results and monitoring the most significant developments. In tomorrow’s edition of this newsletter, we’ll take a closer look at the biggest storylines to emerge from Tuesday’s elections and help you make sense of what the results mean for midterm races in November. 

In the meanwhile, check out our May 17 election hub to see the latest results. You can also subscribe to The Heart of the Primaries, our weekly dive into key congressional, legislative, and executive races. The next edition comes out Thursday! 

Click on the links below to see results from the battleground elections that happened last night:


North Carolina



Next week, on May 24, three states will hold statewide primaries—Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia. We’ll bring you more on those elections in the coming days. You can see a full list of upcoming primary dates here.

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Arkansas has most incumbents in contested U.S. House primaries in at least a decade

Speaking of Arkansas, the filing deadline for candidates running for state or federal office was March 1. This year, 16 candidates are running for Arkansas’ four U.S. House districts, including eight Republicans, four Democrats, three Libertarians, and one independent. That’s an average of 4 candidates per district, more than the 2.3 candidates per district in 2020 and fewer than the 5.5 in 2018.

Here are some other highlights from this year’s filings:

  • This is the first election to take place under new district lines following the 2020 census. Arkansas was apportioned the same number of congressional districts as after the 2010 census.
  • Incumbents are running in all elections. Arkansas hasn’t had an open House district since the 2014 elections, when two incumbents didn’t run.
  • District 4 incumbent Rep. Bruce Westerman is running unopposed in the Republican primary. This year’s elections have the highest number of incumbents in contested primaries (3, or 75%) since at least 2012. The second-highest was in 2018, when two incumbents (50%) faced contested primaries. No incumbents had primary challengers in 2020.
  • At least one candidate filed for each major party primary in each district.
  • The 1st District race has five candidates, the most of any district. Three Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent are running.

Arkansas’ U.S. House primaries are on May 24, with a June 21 runoff in the event that no candidate receives a majority in a primary. Alabama and Georgia also hold primaries on May 24. Ten states hold primaries before that date.

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