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The Politics of the DH

July 15, 2007

Today, I read an interesting article linking baseball and political science — “The Etiology of Public Support for the Designated Hitter Rule,” (warning: pdf) by Christopher Zorn and Jeff Gill, published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science. Despite the jargon, the piece is quite readable.

Zorn and Gill report evidence that baseball fans are far more likely to embrace the designated hitter (DH) if they are Democrats:

Most important, and consistent with our expectations, we find that self-identified Democratic Party members are more likely to support the DH rule than are either independents or Republicans; the odds ratio of 1.90 suggests that, on average, Democrats are 90 percent more likely to support the rule than are independents. This implies (we think) that the values that draw the respondents to the Democrats are linked to those associated with supporting the rule. At the same time, the reverse is not true: Republicans are no more or less likely to support the DH rule than are political independents.

Their explanation for this finding makes intuitive sense.

As Zorn and Gill explain, the DH is arguably the greatest rules change in the history of baseball — and Democrats are more accepting of “socio-political” changes.

Younger fans like the DH a bit more — each year of age decreases support for the DH by 1.3%.

The also find a gender gap. Women are three times as likely to support the DH as men. All respondents were self-identified baseball fans, included in a larger CBS News survey taken in 1997.

Interleague play did not engender the same sort of socio-political division.

I know that Peter (Indians), Patrick (Yankees) and I (Royals) all grew up as fans of American League teams, which the authors hypothesize makes us more accepting of the DH. They could not fully test this relationship because of limits in the data (i.e., the pollsters didn’t ask the right questions).

Note to Zorn and Gill in regard to footnote 18: There may not be data showing an increased Japanese-American fan base, but there is evidence of increased interest in American baseball in Japan — thanks to the U.S. success of Nomo, Ichiro, Matsui, et al.

Hat tip: I learned about Zorn and Gill from my colleague who works with quantitative data about American public opinion and political behavior, Jason Gainous.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.