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Politics Podcast: If Not Iowa, Which State Should Vote First?


The question about which states get to go first got our political team thinking. If we were to pick a different state to vote first, one that was more representative of the country as a whole, which would be? Reporter Asma Khalid decided to crunch some numbers. She presented her findings to NPR's Sam Sanders, Ron Elving and Tamara Keith on the "Politics Podcast." Here's an excerpt of that conversation.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: So we did sort of quantitative fun project. I can walk you through what we did here. I have...

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Quantitative is fun.

KHALID: I know, right? You see my five spreadsheets here (laughter).


SANDERS: Oh, my.

KHALID: So we looked at five factors. So those are race, education, which is the percent of the population that has a bachelors degree or higher. We looked at median age. We looked at income through the lens of median household income and then religion.


SANDERS: Which state is the most representative?

KEITH: I want to pick.

KHALID: Let's have some guesses out there.

KEITH: My vote is for the state I recently moved to, which is Virginia. It's a purple state. It has a diverse economy. It has rural parts. It has urban parts, and it's quite racially diverse, I think.


KHALID: Everyone guesses a state first - OK, cool.

SANDERS: I did a little research on this, too, and I talked to a data guy. His name is Dante Chinni. He's the director of the American Communities Project at American University. And he said in some ways, Iowa is good because it's small enough for smalltime candidates to make their way across the state, but he did say that you kind of want a mix of urban and rural because that's what America is today. And then he had a few options that he ran through.

DANTE CHINNI: Pennsylvania's a very good option. Colorado is an interesting state - my home state of Michigan. Ohio's a really good one.

SANDERS: So he had a few, but he settled on Georgia because he said Georgia still has a lot of rural part, but it's also got Atlanta.


SANDERS: So Georgia's my pick.

ELVING: He mentions, also, Ohio, which traditionally...


ELVING: ...People have focused on partly because its demographics and its economic mix...

SANDERS: And it can be a swing state.

ELVING: And it is...

KEITH: Oh, it can be one hell of a swing state.

ELVING: It is the swing state because no Republican has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio. So that clearly makes it crucial to the Republican Party and to the Democratic Party as well. You also have Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, three major cities. I like Ohio.


KHALID: Well, unfortunately...

SANDERS: Drum roll, drum roll, drum roll.

KHALID: None of you are correct.




ELVING: None of us.

KHALID: None of you are correct, and I can give you a quick reason on why before we actually reveal the real winner. So Virginia - you're right, Tam - very racially representative of where the country is. The problem with Virginia is that its education and, I believe, its income levels are too high. So Georgia is...

SANDERS: It's diverse.

KHALID: Georgia is diverse, but I will say because we racially looked at all of the subgroups, certain states like Georgia that had large African-American populations were overrepresented in the black population and perhaps underrepresented Ohio in particular when it came to Latino population. The other issue with Ohio is that Ohio is...

ELVING: Older.

KHALID: ...Older - yep.


KEITH: Oh, yeah.


KHALID: That was a problem we had with Pennsylvania as well. Pennsylvania...

ELVING: Old is beautiful, Asma.

KEITH: (Laughter).

KHALID: So I think what is somewhat comical is that the state that wins borders Iowa.

ELVING: It's Missouri.

KHALID: It's Illinois.

SANDERS: Illinois.

ELVING: Oh, it's Illinois.

KEITH: Illinois.


SANDERS: See, but Illinois is expensive

ELVING: I like Illinois.

SANDERS: But ad buys in Chicago are expensive.

ELVING: Killer.

KHALID: I didn't look at ad buys.

KEITH: But that's not what she's looking at.


KHALID: ...Median household income. Illinois and Iowa, there are parts of it that but up against one another that are very similar on religious levels. You could say the rural mix, rural, suburban, urban mix is really representative of what the country looks like.

ELVING: All the way down the Mississippi River there, sure.

KHALID: Median household income is fairly representative. I mean, Illinois was one of the these states that on all metrics - entirely representative of where the


KHALID: ...Country is.

SANDERS: Now, full disclosure, you have some personal ties to the Chicago area.

KHALID: I was born in Illinois.


KHALID: So I mean, I want to throw this out there that this system is somewhat arbitrary, right? I mean, we decided what metrics to use. You can use a lot of different economic indicators. And so we would certainly love your feedback if you think there's a better way to do this system...

SANDERS: Yeah, let us know.

KHALID: ...If you disagree with this.

SANDERS: See; like, I would add cost - how it much it costs to advertise. I would add that metric.

KEITH: And I would add the type of economy you have.

ELVING: Weather conditions, quality of hotels, that sort of...


KEITH: Three-star or better.

CORNISH: That's the NPR "Politics Podcast" team. If you've got a better idea of which state should vote first, tweet us @npratc. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.