April 7, 2010

Watching Sports and Political Affiliations

According to a recent study released by National Media Inc. - and noted on the incredible sociological blog Sociological Images - there are some interesting differences between political affiliations and sports viewing habits.  The study featured last week on The Hollywood Reporter and includes a few pictographs that attempt to portray the study's findings, notably, that TV sports audiences skew Republican and are more likely to vote.  (Note: in the graphs below, the bubble size is proportionate to the percentage of adults who report typically watching the television format).

In sum, the graph shows that the most popular sports to watch on TV are the NFL, Olympics, and college football.  All of those three viewer groups are skewed republican, with college football viewers as the most republican.  Can we make any sense out of that?  Can we make any sense out of the PGA Tour (heavily skewed republican) as the highest voter turnout sport?

We know that the President is a big NBA fan.  Last year, his hometown
Chicago Bulls paid him a personal visit.

On the other side, the viewers of the NBA skew the most democratic.  It's also - by far - the most popular sport whose audience is democratically skewed.  On that side of the graph, there is just a small number of audiences (who apparently don't vote) for fringe sports like: soccer, pro wrestling, WNBA, tennis, and monster trucks.

Also interesting, both major and minor league baseball feature rather centrist audiences.  Is this indicative of the sport known as America's past time?  I have to think so, keeping in mind the political neutrality of the tradition of presidential first pitches on Opening Day.  Republican president William Howard Taft initiated the tradition in 1910, with an opening day pitch at the Washington Senators' Griffith Stadium.  Since then, there have been 66 presidential opening day pitches.  The highest amount of opening day tosses belongs to FDR and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who both threw 8 pitches during their respective presidencies.

The presidential leg kick at Wrigley Field in 1988.

Obama at the 2009 All-Star Game.  For all of his basketball "cool," 
Obama's baseball skills are seriously lacking.

The best pitches probably belong to our 43rd president, George W. Bush.  During his tenure, he not only threw 5 opening day pitches, but also opened the 2001 World Series in New York with a strike from the rubber that some have called the greatest presidential pitch of all time.

At the World Series in 2001, number 43 showed great form.

Of course, none of these opening day pitches can hold a candle to this.  I kid, I kid, but you have got to love research that attempts to uncover the linkages between politics and sport.  Since I'm not a quantitative person, however, I'm just taking this data at face value --- whatever conclusions can be drawn require much more information than just political information.  Using this data in congruence with other comptometric data - like socio-economic data or education level or by geography - of television audiences and political affiliations would probably be more useful.

Otherwise, I would just be speculating as to why certain sports audiences align with political affiliations and voter turnout figures.  For instance, it's pure speculation to assume that pro-wrestling fans just don't care enough about politics to vote.  What are the additional factors that contribute to political apathy?  I am curious, however, as to what my soft-spoken readers might be thinking...so, if you have an idea, post something below.

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