Political Science Now

Presidents, Baseball, and Wins above Expectations

Presidents, Baseball, and Wins above Expectations: What Can Sabermetrics Tell Us about Presidential Success?: Why Ronald Reagan is like Bobby Cox and Lyndon Johnson is like Joe Torre

by Manuel P. Teodoro, Texas A&M University and Jon R. BondTexas A&M University 

We observe some parallels between presidential-congressional relations and baseball. Like baseball, presidential-congressional politics is all about winning. What a baseball manager needs from his players is runs: hitters must score runs; fielders must prevent them. What a president needs from members of Congress is votes: votes for and against legislation, votes to sustain vetoes, and (every century or so) votes opposing impeachment. But what fans (of sports and politics) find most intriguing is Wins Above Expectations (WAE)—did the team do better or worse than expected? Baseball analysts use sabermetrics to develop objective metrics to assess teams and players. Political scientists use traditional statistical models to analyze presidential success in Congress.  This paper adapts the Pythagorean Expectations (PE) formula from sabermetrics to assess presidential legislative success from Eisenhower to Obama. We find that a parsimonious regression model and the PE formula both predict annual success rates with 90 percent accuracy. The estimates of WAE from the two approaches, however, are uncorrelated. Regression analysis does not identify any president who systematically exceeded expectations, but sabermetric analysis indicates that Republican presidents outperform Democrats. Neither approach correlates with recent presidential greatness rankings based on scholars’ assessments.

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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 50, Issue / April 2017, pp. 559-564