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Dangerous, Humid and Expensive: What Google Searches Say About D.C.

Google searches reveal a somewhat negative, albeit realistic, portrayal of D.C.
Chris Chester/WAMU
Google searches reveal a somewhat negative, albeit realistic, portrayal of D.C.

Discovering what people think of a city can be a pretty tricky proposition. Ask people on the street, and they may try and be polite. Solicit complaints from a tourist board, and you may get too much negativity. But what about from behind a computer screen? The things people put into the Google search engine may be a revealing way to track attitudes about a city.

For those not familiar, Google uses an autocomplete feature, which attempts to anticipate one's search query by filling in the blanks with the most popular searches and terms frequently addressed on web pages. A list of autocomplete stereotypes was compiled by blogger Nate Shivar for the top 50 cities in the country.

The results for Washington D.C. are quite telling. From a search for "Why is Washington D.C. so ____" at WAMU headquarters:

  • Why is Washington D.C. so dangerous
  • Why is Washington D.C. so humid
  • Why is Washington D.C. so democratic
  • Why is Washington D.C. so expensive

Unlike some areas of the country, people asking about the District largely stick to the facts. While homicide rates in the District are less than half of what they were several years ago, D.C. still ranks 16th in the rate of violent crime, according to the FBI's 2011 data, so the perception that it is dangerous is not unfounded.

There is also no denying that D.C. is humid. We're still in the beginning stages of a heatwave that will see the heat index well in excess of 100 degrees every day this week.

The District's Democratic leanings are also beyond dispute. Of the 13 current members of the D.C. Council, 11 belong to the Democratic Party and two are independent—and those two have to be non-Democrats by law.

And last but certainly not least, D.C. is indeed quite expensive. Just last week, we covered a family calculator that estimated it cost a family of four $88,615 a year just to get by — the second-highest of any metropolitan area in the country.

There is one caveat, though: Autocomplete results can vary based on user. Since Google's search algorithm draws upon your search history to try and figure out what exactly you might be looking for, these searches could post different autocomplete results. For example, one user we spoke to produced a much more basic Autocomplete stereotype: Why is Washington D.C. so boring?

While the results of this little informal survey of attitudes about our nation's capital have largely negative, it's not all bad. At least D.C. isn't Baltimore.


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