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Utah wants to join Iowa and New Hampshire at the top of the primary calendar. So much for diversity?


(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

One of the chief criticisms of Iowa and New Hampshire holding the first presidential contests in the country is that neither of them is very diverse. And it's hard to dispute that.

So when news broke this week that Utah would attempt to leapfrog to the front of the primary calendar, there was all kinds of predictable grumbling about an even-less-diverse state adding itself to the mix.

But is Utah actually less diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire?

It's not as easy a question as it seems. Let's look at it one demographic at a time:

RACE

Utah, though perceived as lily-white, is actually closer to the middle when it comes to racial diversity, ranking 18th in the United States when it comes to the percentage of the population that is non-Hispanic white — about 80 percent. It's actually quite a bit less white than New Hampshire (the fourth-whitest state) and Iowa (No. 6).

The reason: The Hispanic population there is surging, growing 78 percent between 2000 and 2010. Utah now has the 12th-largest population of Hispanics, at 13 percent.

According to the ESRI Diversity Index — a complicated measure that evaluates whether two people selected at random will be of different racial or ethnic groups, Utah ranks as the 29th most diverse state, while Iowa is 44th and New Hampshire is 47th.

RELIGION

This is where Utah, to put it lightly, isn't so diverse.

According to a 2008 Trinity College study, "The Mormons of Utah are the only religious group in the U.S. today that comprises a numerical majority of a state‘s population."

A Pew study that same year showed that 58 percent of Utahns were Mormon. Nationally, less than 2 percent of Americans are Mormon, and only two other states — Idaho and Nevada — even have double-digit Mormon populations.

Other than the 7 percent of Utahns who are Protestant and 10 percent who are Catholic, no other religion registered more than half a percentage point.

Of course, Iowa isn't very religiously diverse, either. Seventy-nine percent of the state is Christian — 54 percent Protestant and 25 percent Catholic — with most of the rest being "unaffiliated" (15 percent). Iowa has one of the biggest Protestant populations outside the South.

New Hampshire is more diverse — about equal parts Protestant, Catholic and unaffiliated.

POLITICS

Utah was the most politically homogeneous state in the 2012 presidential election, with 73 percent of the state voting for Mitt Romney. Of course, that undoubtedly had something to do with his ties to the state as the architect of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics (and it likely didn't hurt that he's a Mormon).

This is largely because Mormon voters are among the most reliable Republicans in the nation, with 74 percent identifying with the GOP and just 17 percent favoring Democrats, according to 2012 Pew data.

Utah was also the reddest state in the 2004 election. It was the third-reddest in both 2000 and 2008.

Iowa and New Hampshire, meanwhile, are generally considered among the few swing states in the general election.

ECONOMICS

Utah ranks in the mid-teens when it comes to average income, but it's got one of the highest incomes in the middle of the country (excluding the wealthier coasts).

New Hampshire ranks in the top 10, while Iowa is middle-of-the-pack.

In conclusion, it's pretty clear that Utah is hardly among our more diverse states. But that has far less to do with race than people might think — and much more to do with religion and politics. In those two respects, it's pretty easy to make the case that it's the least diverse state in the country.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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