There are 205 contested state legislative primaries in 2023, representing 23% of all possible primaries. Comparing 2023 to other times Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia all held elections since 2011, the percentage of primaries that are contested this year is lower than in 2019 (25%) but higher than in 2011 (22%) and 2015 (20%).
A primary is contested when there are more candidates running than nominations available, meaning at least one candidate on the primary ballot must lose. There are 538 state legislative districts up for election nationwide, creating 877 possible primaries.
Of the 205 contested primaries, 62 are Democratic, 66 are Republican, and 77 are top-two. Louisiana uses a majority-vote system, where all candidates compete in the same primary, and a candidate can win the election outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate does, the top-two vote recipients from the primary advance to the general election, regardless of their partisan affiliation.
In the four recent election cycles when all four states held elections, Republicans had a higher percentage of contested primaries in three, while Democrats a higher percentage in one. In 2011, 2015, and 2023, 17.2%, 14.1%, and 19.5% of Republican primaries were contested, compared to Democrats’ 13.6%, 13.8%, and 15.7%, respectively. In 2019, 18.9% of Democratic primaries and 15.9% of Republican primaries were contested.
Louisiana has the most contested primaries with 77, followed by Mississippi (60), Virginia (47), and New Jersey (21). In 2019, Louisiana again held the most contested primaries with 92, followed by Mississippi (72), Virginia (35), and New Jersey (16).