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How Washington D.C. Is Different From the Rest of the Country How Washington D.C. Is Different From the Rest of the Country

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How Washington D.C. Is Different From the Rest of the Country

The city is an American outlier.


President Obama's motorcade drives back to the White House on Feb. 5, 2014.(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

There's another new poll that appears to show that Washington, D.C., is really, radically different from the rest of the country.

In a survey of all 50 states plus D.C., the nation's capital is the only place with a positive rating on the 2013 Gallup Economic Confidence Index. That index is a composite measure of how Americans view the economy today, and what they think the prospects are for the future, based on a -100 to +100 scale. D.C. comes away with a +19 on the index, followed by Massachusetts at a -1. At the other end is West Virginia, which has a -44 (!) on the index. The national average for 2013 was -16.


That's an obviously huge gap. So what could explain it? It's not that D.C.'s economy is booming compared with the rest of the country. Washington still had a relatively high, 8.1 percent, unemployment rate in December, compared with West Virginia's 5.9 percent rate or with that month's national rate of 6.7 percent.

Other ideas? Gallup points to partisanship, which definitely makes some sense. Obama's approval rating in Washington dwarfs the level in any other state, with 80.8 percent approving of the president in 2013. West Virginia, on the other hand, thought worse of the president than nearly any other state in 2013, with only a quarter of its residents approving of his performance.

But that doesn't really explain why the economic confidence gap between the District of Columbia and the rest of the country would be so largeespecially when states such as Hawaii, which had the second-highest Obama approval rating in 2013, still ran outside the top 10 on the confidence index, at -12. 


The real thing that makes D.C. different from every state in the country, and makes it a constant U.S. outlier, is that it is a city. It's not a state. And constantly comparing the city to states can be misleading.

It's the same reason Gallup recently found that D.C. is the nation's most liberal "state," beating out the likes of Vermont, which elected a self-described socialist to the Senate. Or why The New York Times last year called D.C. the gayest place in the America, a claim that The Washington Post's Mark Berman (no relation) dissected a few months back. That dissection fits the new superlatives, too:

The problem: D.C. is a city, not a state. So comparing D.C. ( population: more than 632,000; land area: 61 square miles, according to the Census Bureau) with, say, Oklahoma ( 3.8 million people; 68,000 square miles) or Montana ( 1 million people; 145,000 square miles) doesn't really work.

This sort of thing happens all the time. Surveys regularly lump D.C. in with the 50 states, despite the inherent dissonance in comparing an urban jurisdiction with states that can house a mix of urban, suburban, and rural areas. And reporters, myself included, will write about these reports, adding in caveats about how it is like comparing apples and oranges (if the oranges were 10 or 20 times as large as the apples).


As a city, D.C. is a pretty skewed sample for a poll of statesespecially much larger, realer states such as Texas and California. D.C. may be a supremely liberal city, a very gay (if not the gayest) city, or an abnormally economically confident city. But to compare it to states kind of misses the point, and makes the city seem more removed from the rest of America than it really is.

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