Hard as it may be to believe, the primary calendar for 2016 is not yet set. (No one, candidates included, is as ready for 2016 as the political press, it seems.) But we know a few things about what will happen. Iowa and New Hampshire will be first; a number of larger states will wait patiently a few weeks behind.
Smaller states, you see, get to pick our presidential candidates. Which you knew, but now we can prove it.
We pulled the presidential primary schedules for each year since 1992 to assess how early each state got to go. We ranked each state (and D.C.) in order for each year, assigning it a value as you would the finishers in a race. That allowed us to figure out the average pole position (or poll position wokka wokka wokka) for each place. Or, to cut to the chase, it gave us this:
As expected, Iowa and New Hampshire are among the darkest-colored states, meaning that they come they regularly come earliest in the process. At the back, Montana, which, from 1992 to 2012, averaged 54th out of the 50 states. (In case you're a math whiz, we can answer your question: 50 plus the territories and DC.)
It gets more interesting once you cross-reference primary appearances with population. Here's what that looks like, with average primary position on the vertical axis and population in millions on the horizontal.
It's sort of like a sideways bell curve; the big states arrive in the middle.
If you group the order states appear in primaries into groups of 10 -- the 10 earliest, the next 10, and so on -- and then find the average populations of those states, it's a bit less evenly distributed.
(Comparing median populations makes the second tier the largest, for what it's worth.)
Since 1992, the states that fall into that first, earliest voting tier include South Carolina, Minnesota and North Dakota. Those in the bottom tier include New Jersey, Indiana and North Carolina.
Bigger states do offer more delegates for conventions, yes. But only if a candidate can wend his or her way through the smaller places to get there.