Every four years in February, candidates spend time shaking hands in Iowa, and kissing babies in New Hampshire. And each cycle, people question why these states seem to matter most in the nomination process for presidential primaries. Critics often wonder whether other states would be more appropriate to cast the nation’s first votes, and if so, which ones?
Many believe that states that are more representative of the U.S. as a whole would be better suited to host the country’s first contests, and according to a new report from NPR, the state that would best fit the criteria is Illinois.
Researchers at NPR created the “Perfect State Index” based on five categories: race, education, age, income, and religion. They then used 2014 census data to compare every state’s metrics to the average in each category across the country, to find out how far each state “diverged from the quintessential American ‘middle,’” according to the report.
Illinois was deemed the overall winner, ranking 1st in racial makeup, 20th in education, 5th in age, 14th in income, and 10th in religion. The rankings measure how close the state is to the average across the entire country, according to the report.
On race specifically, NPR said, “If you look at every group: Latinos, Asians, blacks — Illinois' respective populations are nearly identical to the country's at large.”
Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution told NPR that he was not surprised, looking at historical trends and events, saying, “Chicago has been this kind of central place that has been emblematic of these different kinds of movements” like the Great Migration of the early 20th century, Hispanic immigration, and the expansion of suburban areas.
“It's almost comical that the most perfectly average state neighbors Iowa, the state that gets to go first in presidential nominating contests,” the article reads. “In many ways, Illinois is geographically and demographically similar to Iowa… the major difference is Chicago — an urban core the kind Iowa just doesn't have.”
“I think people would do well to look at how the voting goes there to get a better understanding of what's going on in the country as a whole,” Frey said.
The report also mentions that throughout the entire 20th century, Illinois voted for the winner in every presidential election except 1916 (Woodrow Wilson) and 1976 (Jimmy Carter).