The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Low population is not a reason to deny D.C. statehood, as Wyoming can attest

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
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Rep. Nancy Mace on Tuesday offered reporters her opinion on why D.C. should not be granted statehood.

“D.C. wouldn’t even qualify as a singular congressional district,” said Mace (R-S.C.), “and here they are, they want the power and authority of being an entire state in the United States.”

As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel quickly pointed out, Mace made that comment while standing in front of the chair of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Liz Cheney. Cheney represents the entire state of Wyoming, since the state is not populous enough to have more than one sitting member of the House.

Wyoming is, in fact, less populous than Washington, D.C.

There’s been a lot of rhetoric about the prospect of D.C. statehood in the past few weeks, much of it from Republicans aimed at undercutting the idea that the District merits consideration as a state. This particular argument is among the worst.

If we rank the 435 voting House districts and D.C. by population, D.C. comes in 403rd — meaning that 33 districts are less populous than Washington. Mace’s 1st District in South Carolina has a population of about 785,000, according to 2019 estimates from the Census Bureau. That seems not significantly more populous than D.C.'s estimated 692,000.

You can see all of the smaller districts below; they appear lower on the graph than D.C.

The districts with fewer residents than D.C. include Wyoming, Vermont and every district in the states of Rhode Island, West Virginia, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Maine. If D.C. is too small to be a congressional district, what about all of those?

You’ll notice that the graph above juxtaposes population with Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, a measure of how the district has voted in the two most recent presidential contests. (We’ve used the Cook methodology to estimate D.C.'s score.) At far right, Alabama’s 4th District, which has a PVI score of R+34 — a 34-point advantage for Republicans. At far left, D.C.

It is safe to assume that it’s this horizontal axis, not the vertical one, spurring so much opposition from Republicans. At times, this is explicit: Making D.C. a state would mean adding two Democratic senators and one consistently Democratic representative. At other times, we get sketchy hand-waving about how D.C. is just too tiny to be considered a state.

There’s another way to think about this, of course. Wyoming is home to 581,000 people, according to those 2019 Census Bureau estimates. All 581,000 of them — about 0.2 percent of the country — have representation in Congress. D.C. is home to a population 20 percent larger but with no voting representation at all. Those 692,000 District residents want the power and authority of being a state, just as those 581,000 Wyomingites enjoy. They want their own Liz Cheney.

Well, maybe not exactly. But you get the point.