Iowa and New Hampshire have the first caucus and primary in every U.S. presidential election, but states like Florida, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois are far more representative of the national electorate, according to a new analysis.
A key characteristic those states have in common is that they all contain big cities. The vast majority of Americans — 80 percent — lived in urban areas as of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But this majority isn’t getting a say in the early primary contests, critics say.
“Urban voters are pretty much locked out of these early primaries,” said Thomas Ogorzalek, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University in Illinois. “The unrepresentative early primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, don’t have those big metropolitan areas, which means actually that their populations are distinctive because rural people are not the typical American. The typical American lives in a suburb…and the second biggest group is people who live in central cities.”
WalletHub considered gender, age, race, income and educational level when making a map highlighting the most and least representative U.S. states.
Which States Most Closely Resemble US Electorate (Click on each state to see where it ranks)
Iowa and New Hampshire are also among the whitest states in the nation. Iowa’s population was 92 percent white in 2014, while New Hampshire’s was 94 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall, the United States is a much more diverse nation. In 2010, non-Hispanic whites accounted for only 63.7 percent of the population.
“You have these two overwhelmingly white states, not at all representative of the diversity of the broader United States population, setting the tone,” said Mark Rozell, acting dean of the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University. “Many political observers have maintained that we should have a different system for nominating presidents in this country, whether it be a national primary or regional primaries or a different sequence in primaries and caucuses, so that the same two states are not always first in the nation.”
Holding early primaries in states with bigger cities would likely benefit different candidates. Not only those with deeper pockets — since media markets in urban areas are more expensive — but also candidates with big city appeal such as the Democratic candidate and former Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Republican Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, both of whom dropped out of the race before urban voters had a chance to weigh in.
Ogorzalek looks favorably upon a compressed primary season and possible regional primaries, which he believes could lead candidates to discuss issues that are important to a majority of Americans.
“In terms of setting the agenda for the political season that’s upcoming, if we had more issues that were focused around big cities, it might be more representative of what Americans care about in their daily lives and that would change the tone of the debate,” he said.
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