The Daily Beast: Baseball's Problem is Politics' Problem
I don’t live in San Francisco or Kansas City and yet I still watched the World Series.
I like the World Series. I even like baseball.
Then again I also like my flip phone and stayed with “Myspace” out of some misguided sense of loyalty that eventually degenerated into sheer stubbornness.
Still, even with my support, this year’s fall classic ended up as the second-least watched World Series ever, with an average of 12.2 million viewers for games one through six. Only game seven’s respectable 23.5 million viewers saved the 2014 series from snatching the title of all time ratings dog from the 2012 Giants/Tigers contest, an event that might as well have been on C-SPAN. Long known as “America’s Pastime”, many openly argue baseball’s time has past.
Of course the other great American Pastime is voting, and many are starting to wonder about that as well.
On Tuesday, November 4th, Americans will go to the polls to cast ballots in the midterm elections. Up for grabs is control of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, 36 governorships, and countless other state, county and municipal offices -- along with a cornucopia of ballot measures ranging from the arcane to the outrageous. The projected voter turnout is dismal, suggesting Americans find Election Day about as compelling as they find the San Francisco Giants.
There have been a lot of hands wrung over the past few decades trying to figure out how to coax young fans to the ballpark and to the ballot box. The modern stadium is more theme park than ballpark, with waterslides, climbing walls, arcades and every conceivable distraction for those who can’t bare the sight of a bat striking a ball.
Baseball’s zenith as a TV event peaked in game seven of the legendary 1986 Mets/Red Sox “Bill Buckner” series when 39 million tuned in. It’s been pretty much downhill from there.
With 8,000 channels and 50-million cat videos to download, no wonder four hours of guys spitting and scratching isn’t the ratings magnet it once was. Young people, especially young boys who once played sandlot hardball, now hole up in Mom’s basement developing carpal tunnel while playing endless hours of “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty”. While it’s not mandatory to have played baseball to enjoy it, playing helps.
Same goes for voting.
Every State in the Union has bent election laws like a Cirque du Soleil touring company to try and get more people to vote; or at least more of the people they want to vote to vote. Turn out remains tepid as best.
Colorado did away with polling places altogether and went to an all vote-by-mail system. Every registered voter in the Rocky Mountain State received a ballot in the mail they can fill out and send in or drop off at a ballot collection center. The only way they could make it easier would be to have the candidates come to your house and pick them up.
By pandering for the laziest voters Colorado actually compounds the problem. Closing traditional polling stations scrubs neighborhoods -- and especially schools -- of the election experience. And survey after survey proves an embarrassingly high percentage of Americans are largely ignorant of how our government works.
Like baseball, our political system is more engaging if you participate. Sadly, only eight states offer standardized statewide tests in civics/American government, and only Virginia and Ohio require students to actually pass in order to graduate.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center reported in September that only 36 percent of Americans can actually name the three branches of government. More Americans can name all three Jonas Brothers.
We stopped teaching civics in our public schools and outsourced the mechanics of government to “School House Rock.” Nobody is born knowing how a bill becomes a law or what the Electoral College is. (Sidebar: the Electoral College is the balk rule of government.)
It’s no better in America’s colleges and universities, where only 23 schools in the nation received an “A” grade on the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) “What Will They Learn?” report, a study of more than 1,000 colleges and universities. ACTA set out to discover how broadly versed the modern American university student is in seven areas once deemed essential for a well-rounded education. Subjects like composition, literature, foreign language, economics, mathematics, science and history/government have been largely relegated to electives rather than requirements.
If our school system fails to teach how our country works, should we be surprised so many are disinterested?
Add to that a basic lack of knowledge, vicious and imbecilic partisan bickering, and non-stop social media trolling and even those who might be interested in participating in our electoral process can easily find something more elevating with which to occupy their time.
Hot Stove League, anyone?
Doug McIntyre is Host of “McIntyre in the Morning” on Talk Radio 790 KABC in Los Angeles and a columnist for the L.A. Daily News. He can be reached at: Doug@KABC.com.