Nearly everybody in the greater Washington area agrees this is a fun place to live. But in a town where politics is a participatory sport, who has more fun, Democrats or Republicans?

By a narrow margin, Republicans are this area's fun bunch, according to a recent Washington Post survey.

Six in 10 Republicans said they were satisfied with the way they spent their weekends, compared with half of all Democrats. Meanwhile, a majority of Democrats said they wished they had more fun on weekends, a complaint expressed by fewer than half of all GOP partisans.

To explore this very serious issue, The Post interviewed 1,001 randomly selected adults living in the District and the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs from June 28 to July 1. The margin of sampling error for the overall results was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Respondents were asked how they had spent their leisure time on the previous weekend or their usual days off. "The previous weekend" -- June 25-27 -- was a fairly typical Friday through Sunday in early summer. The weather was warm, with generally clear skies.

Specifically, they were asked whether they did any one of 38 leisure-time activities, such as going on a hike, shopping at a mall, dining out or entertaining friends. They were also asked about their political leanings.

So does party affiliation help separate the party animals from the party poopers? Not really. Yet a few differences emerged: Thirty-six percent of the Republicans reported that they had swum in or lounged by the pool the previous weekend compared with 23 percent of Democrats -- perhaps because more of the Republicans, who were somewhat wealthier as a group, had pools of their own to lounge by.

Republicans also were more likely to say they had puttered in the yard. Democrats were more likely to have had people over. Nearly half -- 47 percent -- said they had entertained guests during the previous weekend, compared with to 37 percent of Republicans. Democrats also were more likely to say they had gone to a movie or watched television -- about an hour more on average per weekend than the Republicans who were surveyed.

Six in 10 Democrats said they had taken a nap the previous weekend, compared with half of the Republicans. (We didn't ask whether they had fallen asleep in front of the television.)

And yes, the stereotype is true: Golf and the GOP seem to go hand-in-hand. Nearly half -- 45 percent -- of the Republicans surveyed said they owned a set of golf clubs compared with 21 percent of all area Democrats. What's more, a third of the Republicans said they'd used those clubs in the past year, compared with 21 percent of the Democratic respondents.

While the survey was just conducted in the Washington area, these results confirm earlier research that suggests that Democrats don't have as much fun as Republicans.

Political scientist and wit Lee Sigelman of George Washington University, in a study he did a decade ago of national trend data collected over the previous 20 years, discovered that Democrats, on average, didn't live as long as Republicans, were less likely to marry, more likely to divorce if they did get married and more likely to commit suicide.

He also found that Democrats were less likely to say in national public opinion polls that they were "very happy."

"Compared to respectable Americans, i.e. Republicans," Sigelman concluded impishly, "Democrats can be expected to inhabit a Hobbesian state of nature, a world in which life is poor, short, solitary, brutish and nasty."

The Perils

Of Profiling

Think you can spot an Arab American? If so, guess again. Most Americans are notoriously bad at identifying people by their race or ethnicity, asserts Jeremy M. Weinstein, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University.

"In a climate where discrimination against Arab Americans is on the rise, people are often getting it wrong," said Weinstein, who conducted the research with colleagues James Habyarimana of Georgetown University, Macartan Humphreys of Columbia University and Daniel N. Posner of UCLA.

That's an understatement. In tests conducted on the campuses of USC and UCLA in Los Angeles, nearly 100 study participants were shown a series of photos of young people and asked to guess their race or national origin. The images were selected to be a representative sampling of facial types of Asians, blacks, Caucasians, Latinos and people of Middle Eastern descent.

These students were able to correctly identify the ethnicity of Arab Americans only about 27 percent of the time.

The students did better with the Latino photos, successfully matching the face with the correct ethnicity about 58 percent of the time. African Americans were correctly identified 81 percent of the time, Asians more than nine out of 10 times.

Weinstein said his group's work partially explains why recent studies of attacks motivated by race or ethnicity have turned up so many examples of mistaken "identity" -- such as assaults on Americans of Hispanic origin who the assailants believed were of Arabic descent.

"In the post-9/11 world, where profiling of Arab Americans and others of Middle Eastern descent is as common as that of African Americans, making sense of what . . . factors shape identifiability is of paramount importance," he said.

Talk to Your Toddler

What explains the differences in the scores of black and white students on various tests designed to measure reading and math levels? There are lots of suspects, including racist teachers, culturally biased tests or instructional materials and resource-strapped schools, says sociology professor George Farkas of Pennsylvania State University in the latest issue of Contexts, a journal published by the American Sociological Association.

But Farkas suspects there's another reason: the Word Gap.

Researchers know that being raised in a word-rich environment creates vocabulary and language skills that are the building blocks of education. The problem is that many poor parents don't have the time, the language skills or perhaps the energy to converse a lot with their kids, which puts their offspring at a disadvantage even before they begin preschool, Farkas said.

Farkas reported that working- and middle-class parents spoke about 20 million words to their children, while parents of low-income children said only 10 million. He based his conclusions on insights first published by developmental psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas. These researchers spent an hour each month in the homes of 42 families, transcribing and then counting the words spoken to the children.

"Children from high, middle and low social class families begin school with very different bases upon which to build success in reading and mathematics," Farkas concluded. Since black families are more likely to be poorer than white families, a larger proportion of black children enter school lacking the tools they need to compete.

Farkas warns, however, that the word gap is not the total answer -- a portion of the black-white testing gap remains even after class and the word gap are accounted for. More research is needed, he argues, and "we'd better get busy."

morinr@washpost.com