It’s a quadrennial complaint across 48 states: Why do Iowa and New Hampshire seem to play such an oversized role in picking the next president? The process for selecting presidential nominees is not remotely democratic. First, not everyone votes at once, making earlier votes more consequential in narrowing the field. Second, while some states invite tens of thousands of people to weigh in on the allegiance of a few delegates, others hold Byzantine caucuses in which a few thousand people determine a swath of representatives to the convention.
Which got us wondering: Is there a way to figure out how influential any particular vote–stretching from Maine to California–is in the primary process? Candidates are nominated at the conventions this summer not based on the share of the vote they’ve won but on the number of delegates allotted to them through voting. We devised a simple formula to measure the impact of each state’s ballot. Try it out below.
The reasoning behind the ranking is simple. First, we estimate the ratio of pledged delegates to voters using historical turnout data from a variety of sources. (Many states also send unpledged delegates to the convention, but these delegates are not bound by the voters’ wishes.) States with higher delegate-to-voter ratios are considered more influential, since any one voter has a bigger impact on the outcome. Turnout is estimated by the higher turnout figure of the last two contested primaries in each party: 2008 or 2012 for Republicans and 2004 or 2008 for Democrats.
Since the calendar is staggered, we also consider when in the process a state votes. Those that hold primaries or caucuses late in the process are less likely to be influential since there’s a greater chance that the race will already be decided. This factor is determined by looking at the percentage of delegates that remain to be allocated on the day a given state votes.
Sources: The Green Papers, United States Elections Process, Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.