February 2, 2016 6:23 pm
Updated: February 9, 2016 4:46 pm

Why do Iowa and New Hampshire matter so much in the U.S. presidential race?

WATCH: What happened in Iowa on Monday night was unexpected. Ted Cruz trumped Donald Trump in the race to become the Republicans' presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton, widely seen as the Democratic frontrunner, barely managed a win. Jackson Proskow reports.


Neither Iowa nor New Hampshire represents the American population: The former is 88 per cent white; the latter, 92 per cent.

The U.S. population as a whole, on the other hand, is 12 per cent black and 18 per cent Hispanic, according to self-identification on the country’s census. People who identify as Asian make up six per cent of the country’s population and Native Americans account one per cent.

So why do these two states hold so much sway in determining who gets to run for president?

Iowa held the first in a long series of caucuses and primaries for both the Republicans and Democrats Monday night.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz trumped Trump among republicans; Hillary Clinton edged rival Bernie Sanders among Democrats. They’ve now headed to New Hampshire ahead of that state’s primaries Feb. 9.

Here’s what the demographics on Iowa caucus night looked like:

Clinton takes Iowa beating back Sanders' strong challenge

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In 2011, Brown University economists Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff determined caucus and primary voters in early states — namely Iowa and New Hampshire — had “five times the influence of voters in later states in selecting presidential candidates.”

The presidential nominee in each party usually wins in at least one of these two states. The only exception since 1976 was 1992, when Bill Clinton lost both.

But while the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary both have great influence on the presidential races, that’s not the reason they’re held first.

Both states actually have state laws ensuring their contests will be the first in the country. New Hampshire pass a law to be the first primary in the country in 1952, but Iowa went above and beyond that in 1976, when it legislated the caucuses must be held eight days before any other nominating race.

So what’s the ‘perfect state’ to represent the country as a whole?

Leading up to the Iowa caucuses, NPR created what it called the Perfect State Index, examining all 50 states’ demographics on race, religion, education, age and income.

Turns out, the demographically “perfect” state is Iowa’s neighbour to the north, Illinois.

“It’s as diverse as the country, but not overly diverse,” Brookings Institution demographer Bill Frey told NPR.

“It’s probably a little more urban than the country as a whole because of the greater Chicago metropolitan area, but a lot of that is the suburbs and the suburbs are representative of much of America.”

Iowa didn’t fair too poorly on the ranking, coming in 16th place. New Hampshire was second-last, after West Virginia.

Why isn’t California more important?

California has the most delegates and the most electoral votes for either party. But it won’t have much of an impact on the 2016 race for a while.

The California primaries will be held on June 7, along with races in five other states; the Democratic primary in the District of Columbia on June 8 is the last of any of the races.

In 2008, the California primaries were in a more influential position on the calendar, on Feb. 8 and just three days after Super Tuesday. That year, Barack Obama won it for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republican.

But, the primary date was bumped to June after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law to hold the presidential primaries in tandem with state primaries, saving the state about $100 million in expenses.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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