It’s all about the stats: What politics and baseball have in common

In his final column as host of The House, Chris Hall sits down with three political strategists to examine the intersection between two of his favorite subjects: politics and baseball.

There is a saying that life imitates art. But for my money, there is another comparison that is just as true. Politics imitates baseball.

Here is the field.

Politics and baseball are steeped in tradition. There are many rules; some are written down and some are just centuries-old traditions.

Today, both increasingly depend on modern metrics – data and statistics – to attract new fans and win.

In baseball, these stats help managers decide when to deploy the infield quarterback or put an extra person in the outfield to keep top hitters off base.

In politics, numbers tell campaign managers which constituencies to visit and which campaign promise to promote. They know how many alternative votes are available in each electoral district. The parties keep databases that tell them the home address of a supporter and that of a voter likely to be convinced to join them.

It is therefore not surprising that many politicians and their strategists are also baseball fans.

The House political (and baseball) panel, left to right: Anne McGrath, National Director of the NDP, Jason Lietaer, President of Canada Business and former Conservative strategist; and Zita Astravas, former Liberal spokeswoman and current chief of staff to Bill Blair. (Submitted by Jason Lietaer and Zita Astravas, Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

There is a powerful connection between database management and campaign management, according to Anne McGrath.

“I think all campaigns are, or are trying to be, data-driven now,” said McGrath, NDP national director and veteran of federal and provincial campaigns.

« That’s the key to politics. You have to find the people who support you and get them to vote. So you have to know who they are, know where they are and know what interests them. »

McGrath was an avid Montreal Expos fan. The club moved years ago to Washington and she still hasn’t recovered. But McGrath sees a lesson in the move, about the importance of not just maintaining a fan base, but finding ways to bring new ones to the ballpark.

« You have to know who your base is and you have to expand it. You have to attract more people. And you have to do it in a way that’s sensitive to changing demographics and changing ways of communicating with people. people and to get people interested, involved and motivated, » she explained.

CBC News: The House9:32Take me to the poll game

In one of his latest shows, host Chris Hall combines two of his passions: baseball and politics. He talks to three other baseball stalwarts who happen to be political insiders: Liberal staffer Zita Astravas, Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer and NDP National Director Anne McGrath.

Jason Lietaer grew up reading baseball box scores and eagerly awaiting the weekend newspaper that included stats for every American League player, including members of the hometown Toronto Blue Jays.

Lietaer, a former Conservative campaign strategist who now runs government relations firm Enterprise Canada, believes in data mining to gain information about a player or a campaign. But simply collating that data doesn’t guarantee victory in baseball or politics, he said.

Sometimes the bottom of the ninth happens a month before the game even begins.-Jason Lietaer

Players on the field or candidates knocking on doors continue to play a key role in determining whether you win or lose. In addition, it is important to interpret these data correctly

“And I would say that in politics we still struggle with that,” Lietaer said. « You know, is there only one or two ways to read data? How important is digital communication? How important is this information? »

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Toronto Blue Jays Alejandro Kirk hits a single during a game against the Boston Red Sox in Toronto on June 28, 2022. (Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press)

A key lesson is figuring out what the stats are telling you before the game ends or before election night, so you can better adapt to changing circumstances and give your team a better chance of victory.

« Sometimes you don’t realize you’re winning or losing an election. [until] you have already won or lost it,” he said.

« Sometimes the bottom of the ninth comes a month before the game even starts. »

chris hall baseball card
The politics and baseball panel was one of the last interviews Chris Hall did as host of The House. He retired from CBC in June 2022. CBC Radio created this ‘farewell’ baseball card to mark the occasion. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

Zita Astravas is another political insider who spends a lot of time watching baseball. She has worked on the Federal and Ontario Liberal campaigns and is now Chief of Staff to Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.

« I think one of the things that drew me to politics and baseball was the stats, and I think that’s one of the things you can find common ground on, » she said.

« You do it every day in a political campaign: you look at different constituencies and figure out who your best candidates are, what your target constituencies are, just like you do on different players. »

It’s about finding a hidden meaning in the numbers, an advantage to exploit on the pitch or in the stands.

It’s all in hopes of answering the key question, says McGrath: « Did we knock it out of the park? »


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