The PopCulteer
July 12, 2013

Social media has been abuzz this week over a new Gallup poll that proclaims Charleston to be the most miserable city in the country.

Only it didn’t. Gallup polled over 350,000 people nationwide, asking a variety of questions based on their arbitrary opinion of what Gallup thinks makes up a high quality of living. Gallup doesn’t even use the phrase “most miserable cities.” That’s an invention of the press.

Actually, Gallup’s poll covers “well-being,” not happiness. They didn’t call folks up and ask “how miserable are you?” The press, using Gallup’s data, postulates misery based on which metropolitan areas came in last in Gallup’s chosen criteria: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behavior and access to basic necessities. Gallup updates this poll every three months. It’s not exactly anything new and their methodology has always been questionable.

They do not ask about the political environment, traffic, weather, natural disasters, crime rates, cost-of-living, access to culture and entertainment or anything else that might counter their carefully-chosen criteria.

I admit it. I was just waiting for an excuse to use this digital painting of the view from Fort Hill.

Of course Charleston is going to be hurt in terms of work environment. This area is too dependent on coal, and with that industry slumping and failing, that’s going to drag us down in that catagory. However, coal mines closing down makes as many people happy as it makes miserable. Lots of us would love to see Big Coal pack up and move out of the state and finally let other industry move into West Virginia.

Apparently, this sort of thing is irrelevant to a metropolitan area’s misery.

A lot of West Virginians die from smoking and obesity. That hurts us in terms of our overall health ranking. Not many of us die from Earthquakes, hurricanes or tornados. I think the possibility of being wiped out by an act of God should be a factor in how happy a person is. I don’t recall any of the volunteers in the recent Oklahoma disaster trying to comfort the victims by saying “Hey, at least you aren’t fat.”

Hey, Gallup, how about asking these people how miserable they are?

Washington DC ranked as the large metropolitian area with the highest quality of living. If you’ve ever driven in the DC area, you know what a ridiculous poll we’re dealing with. I love visiting our nation’s capitol, but there’s a reason that it recently displaced Chicago as the city with the worst traffic in America. Yet, traffic, something that causes a great deal of everyday misery, is not taken into account in this poll. You tell me which scenario seems more miserable: happily zipping down Kanawha Boulevard while glancing over at the lovely river and not facing a single red light, or taking forty minutes to move two-tenths of a mile while trying to merge onto the George Washington Parkway?

“Who you callin’ miserable, boy?”

In fact, dividing emotional health, physical health and healthy behavior into three catagories sort of weights the poll in favor of health. Now, if you want to say Charleston is the unhealthiest city in America, I can see that being plausible. West Virginia is not a state with great health quality due to our aging population and mountainous terrain. But does poor health make us miserable? Of course not.

Our biggest health issue is obesity, and everyone knows fat people are jolly. The obesity rate alone should land Charleston in the top ten on the “Most Jolly Places In America” list.

At this point you may notice that I’m not exactly taking this poll seriously. Nobody should. It’s a manufactured slow-news-day story designed to fill time or column inches. Gallup doesn’t even check for the “most miserable city.” They survey people about quality of life issues, mostly related to health, and afterward the data is collated and 189 major municipal areas are ranked. Those that rank last out of those 189 areas get proclaimed “most miserable” by the press, even though the quality of life in those areas may be much higher than most rural areas.

In fact, Gallup’s own website says, “residents living in large metropolitan areas have higher levels of well being than those living in small towns or rural areas.” This is a pretty good indicator that “well being,” as defined by Gallup’s criteria, is not exactly synonymous with happiness or misery. Look at how many people struggle to “get out of the city.” The most miserable person in Charleston might be three times happier than the happiest person in Bat Fart, North Dakota.

The health questions take into account colds, flu, sick days and headaches, and this poll was conducted during a particulary harsh allergy season locally. Emotional health evaluation includes a question about whether or not the respondent is treated with respect. West Virginia is never treated with respect. Just look at the way these poll results were reported. Our own Chamber of Commerce runs around calling the state “a judicial hellhole.”

No questions were asked about the weather, or crime or traffic, access to green areas or many other important points that determine a person’s happiness. Nobody is even asked, “Are you happy?”

It’s a silly poll. The questions don’t really add up to an honest picture of happiness or misery. Anyone who takes this poll seriously is just going to make themselves feel miserable.

And I guess that’s the point.


That’s the PopCulteer this week. “Stuff to Do” will return next week, as will the delayed RFC 187, featuring The Monsters Under The Bed. Plus, all our regular features will be here, too.