On Monday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus suggested that Iowa and New Hampshire's place at the front of the primary election line is by no means set in stone, and that, in the future, other states may very well be kicked ahead in line.
To which I say great, of course, given my established antipathy to two of the least-representative states in the nation playing such a critical role in weeding out presidential candidates. When I wrote about this in February, though, I set my sights on California, thinking that its diversity and size would make it a good first state.
But prompted by the New York Times's Nick Confessore and the Atlantic's David Graham, I was inspired to look at the demographic composition of the states as a guide to figuring out which actually matched the United States most closely.
Using a big index of census data, I compared each state's density of racial populations, education, housing status, age groups and a few other metrics and arrived at a simple answer to the question of where the first primary should be held.
The state that is most like the United States on the whole? Illinois — followed by Missouri, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia. The least like the nation on the whole? Hawaii.
The methodology is relatively simple: Compare each state to the country on each metric and see how far from the average it deviates. Multiply by a weighting factor (to make some traits more important than others) and add up the score. (For overall population, we compared population to the average of all states.) On a scale where the lowest value wins, Illinois had a lower combined score than any other.
I quickly realized just how contentious this would be. After all, it depends on what you think should count toward representation. Should we worry about racial density? Poverty levels? The number of veterans?
If you are concerned only about matching the black and white population densities, the most representative state is still Illinois, followed by Texas. Worried only about urban density and how many people have college degrees? Nebraska. The state that's closest to the overall national population of veterans and homeowners? Georgia.
Because these things vary, we made a tool that will let you proportion demographics as you see fit. (Something you want to include is missing? Tough.) Here's the challenge: Can you find a combination of demographics in which Iowa and New Hampshire fall one-two?
If you can, please e-mail. We couldn't, Mr. Priebus.