The politics of baseball in Boston

It's the Red Sox, stupid
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 14, 2009


You don’t need a fancy political-science degree to predict voter turnout in Boston city elections. All you need is a Red Sox postseason schedule (when applicable).

Using this sophisticated algorithm, I can tell you with some assurance that about 26 percent of registered Boston voters will hit the polls on November 3.

Since 1993 — during the Menino era — that’s been the average turnout for City Council general elections (with and without mayoral contests) in years that the Red Sox made the playoffs. When the Sox fail to advance into October baseball, that number closes in on 40 percent. You might say that Bostonians prefer baseball to politics.

To reach this conclusion, the Phoenix simply gathered two sets of empirical evidence — baseball stats and raw City Hall election data for the past 15 years — and reported the resounding message that emerges from between the spreadsheet lines: the better off the Sox fare, the less people vote in Boston.

In 2007 — when the Sox went all the way — a pathetic 13.6 percent of registrants tallied in the nine-way councilor-at-large race. Compare that with roughly 25 percent in 1999 and 2003, years in which there were also no tandem mayoral contests, and in which the Sox lost in the American League Championship Series. The last such race during which the Sox only made it to the American League Division Series — in 1995 — a slightly more impressive 32 percent voted.

The trend also transcends local politics. In 2002 and 2006 — gubernatorial-election years in which the Sox missed the playoffs entirely — preliminaries lured more than 30 percent of registered voters, while the general election in both cases attracted more than 55 percent. Indeed, about four percent more Bostonians voted in the 2000 presidential election — when the Sox barely had a winning season — than did when the team won the World Series in 2004, even though the Democratic candidate for president that year was US Senator John Kerry (you know, of Massachusetts).

Only a candidate vying for career suicide would admit this, but young pols hoping for increased voter turnout this year should be happy that the Sox were stopped early in the ALDS. As a result of weak pitching and lackluster offense, polling stations from Hyde Park to Charlestown will likely be busier than they would have been had the Sox tangled with the Yankees in the postseason, or if they made it all the way. At least that’s what the numbers say.

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  Topics: News Features , Elections and Voting, Politics, Boston,  More more >
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