New Hampshire has a rich history, beautiful natural scenery, and some of the best apple cider I have ever tasted. And I'm so incredibly lucky that I do not currently live there.
With primary season fast approaching, living in Iowa or New Hampshire must be like living inside of the CNN Situation Room. Candidates are ramping up their political ads, increasing the number of door-to-door canvassers who go out and try to convince voters, and probably calling every landline phone at all hours of the day. What makes these two states important enough to suck up the news cycle for months leading up to their primaries (or caucus, in the case of Iowa)?
Let's start with how important these two states are numerically. To understand the states' importance, we have to look at how each party picks their nominee. Both parties give states a certain amount of delegates, based on the state's population, as well as at large delegates, often assigned based on how a state has voted in the past. Like the electoral college, more populous states have more delegates.
The Republican Party starts by giving each state three Republican National Committee delegates, and ten at-large delegates. Before even factoring in population, each state has 13 delegates, plus a bonus of at-large delegates if the state has reliably voted Republican in past elections . For example, Texas has a bonus of 34 at-large delegates, because it is a reliably Republican state. New York, on the other hand, has a bonus of 1 at-large delegate, since it is not.
From there, the Republican party assigns three delegates to each Congressional district in the state. This is where delegates are assigned based on population. That means a state like California has 159 delegates at the Congressional level, while a less populous state (looking at you Wyoming) has 3 delegates, since Wyoming only has one Congressional district.
In total, the Republican party has 2,472 delegates. And states award delegates either through a winner take all system (the person with 51% gets all the delegates in South Dakota) or a proportional system, where delegates are split between the candidates (mandated for all states who have a primary before March 14).
The Democratic Party has a very similar system. There are a total of 4,764 Democratic delegates, both delegates who are committed to supporting whichever candidate wins their state, and "super-delegates," mostly elected officials, who can support whoever they choose. Over 4,000 of the Democratic party delegates are not super-delegates, and are awarded based on population. Just like the Republican system, this means that Florida has 246 delegates, and nearby Mississippi only has 41.
So now that we know how the party picks a candidate, how important are Iowa and New Hampshire numerically?
Turns out, not much. In the Republican Party, New Hampshire actually has fewer delegates than New Mexico, and Iowa has fewer than it's neighboring state of Nebraska. For the Democrats, New Hampshire is still trailing New Mexico in numerical delegates, and Minnesota is a better state for a candidate to win than Iowa. A candidate doesn't necessarily need these two states to win the nomination.
And yet these states are still crucial to a good campaign. Conventional wisdom says that winning Iowa or New Hampshire gives a candidate momentum to win other, more numerically important states. But the winners of Iowa and New Hampshire don't always go on to win the nomination. In 2012, Rick Santorum won Iowa. In 2008, it was Mike Huckabee. President Obama won Iowa in 2008, but lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton. In the past two primaries, no nominee has won both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Why are these states important? Mostly because they're first, and they show the trajectory the election might take. But neither state is representative of America. Iowa and New Hampshire are over 90% white, when the United States as a whole is closer to 70% white. So don't put all your eggs in the basket of New Hampshire, because although it's state government is the third largest legislature in the English speaking world, right behind Congress and the House of Parliament, it doesn't speak or represent the whole country and all its diversity.