Hey, remember the last World Series, when the, uh . . . you know, those guys, beat the . . . hmmm . . . whatevers?
Like most Americans, you probably don't. We may follow sports as if our lives depended on them, but even most self-proclaimed baseball fans are hard-pressed to name the winners of the 2003 World Series. When asked, fewer than a third could recall that it was the Florida Marlins who triumphed last October, according to a new Washington Post survey.
And it's not only baseball fans who have a hard time remembering their sports champions. Despite the packed stadiums, screaming crowds, painted faces and media overkill that attends professional championship games, every major sport generates only evanescent passions. Only a third of all football fans correctly identified the New England Patriots as the winners of the last Super Bowl. A similar proportion of hockey fans remembered that the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in June.
Basketball fans had the best memories of all. Fully half knew that the Detroit Pistons won it all in the NBA last June. But then again, basketball season goes on forever these days and ended just weeks before the survey was taken.
Last month's survey of 850 randomly selected adults also found that football remains America's game. A clear majority of Americans (57 percent) consider themselves to be football fans, including two out of three men but only half of all women -- the largest gender gap of any sport. (But really, is it any surprise that women prove to be more reluctant than men to watch sweating, mud-caked behemoths knock each other flat?)
Baseball continues to trail football in popularity. Slightly more than four out of 10 (44 percent) of American adults currently call themselves baseball fans. Again, there's a sizable gender gap: More than half of all men, but only slightly more than a third of all women are baseball fanatics.
A third of the country are pro basketball fans, and slightly more men (39 percent) than women (32 percent) follow the NBA. But expect basketball's legions to grow: Nearly half of all twenty-somethings are roundball fans, compared with fewer than a third of all Americans 65 or older.
Hockey lags way behind the other sports in fan appeal, with only one in five Americans saying they follow the professional game. But what sports fans they are: Hockey enthusiasts were the most knowledgeable of those tested and were usually more likely to name the champions of the other sports correctly, too.
As for the political divide, Democrats are bigger sports fans than Republicans, and they like to play rough -- or at least watch others play rough. More than six out of 10 Democrats say they follow pro football, compared with just half of all Republicans. Slightly more Democrats (46 percent) than Republicans (41 percent) follow baseball, while basketball also attracts more Democrats (40 percent) than GOP partisans (30 percent).
The only bipartisan sport in America is a Canadian import. Hockey appeals to members of both parties in roughly equal proportions, though Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, a onetime college hockey star, thrashed President Bush when hockey fans were asked their choice for president in this year's election.
Forget what you've heard about bleeding heart liberals or compassionate conservatives. When it comes to trusting others and acting for the common good, neither political party or ideology has a corner on generosity.
That's what Jeff Milyo of the University of Missouri and his two co-authors found in a survey of college students, using two experimental "games" that are frequently used by economists and political scientists to test altruism and trust. The researchers also discovered that political liberals may talk the compassionate talk but don't walk the walk, at least any more than conservatives do. Self-described liberals were more likely to support increased public spending and redistributive programs. But when asked to put their faith in others or contribute money to the larger good, lefties were no more munificent or trusting than right-thinkers.
"Some would argue that liberals are indeed generous, albeit with others' money," the researchers noted wryly in a just-published working paper provocatively titled "Do Liberals Play Nice?"
Milyo and his co-authors, Lisa Anderson and Jennifer Mellor of the College of William & Mary, surveyed a total of 196 William and Mary students to determine, among other things, which political party they supported and how politically liberal or conservative they were. Then the researchers instructed the students to play the two games.
In the "trust game," test subjects were paired up, and one person from each pair was given $10. This person could keep all the money, send only a portion of it to his or her partner, or send it all. Any amount that was sent was tripled -- an incentive to pass on the money. Then the second person could pass all, some or none of the money back. (The game was played repeatedly, and after the experiment was over, the actual dollar winnings from one of the rounds, chosen at random, were distributed to the pair. That kept the players trying hard each time to maximize their returns while keeping down the cost of the experiment, Milyo said.)
So what has this got to do with trusting others? "The payoff was the greatest if players trusted each other to repeatedly send along the full amount," Milyo explained.
The second game was called the "public goods experiment." The students were divided into teams of four. Each individual was given $10. Again, they could keep all or any portion of the money and contribute the rest to a pot that would be divided equally among all the players at the end of the game, whether or not they contributed anything to the pot. As an incentive for the participants to donate more to the group fund, the researchers upped the ante and increased the pot by 25 percent, meaning the four players would each earn more if they gave the full amount to the group fund than if they took the money. The game was repeated multiple times, and once again one play was chosen as the payoff round.
What did they find? "Bottom line: There was absolutely no difference in either game between levels of trust or desire to put money into the public account between self-described liberals or conservatives, or whether you lean Republican [or] lean toward the Democratic Party," Milyo said.
James Carville, Ann Coulter and other fire-breathing political partisans should take heed . "Partisans tend to explain differences in policy and partisanship as reflecting character flaws of their opponents: Republicans are mean-spirited while Democrats lack intelligence," Milyo said. "These results suggest that both groups really behave alike and something other than character explains these [partisan or ideological] differences."
Want to get people working longer and harder on the job? Here's one way that only an economist could love: Increase the price of a gallon of gas.
Sara West at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and Roberton Williams of the University of Texas tracked the impact of state gas taxes and the price of gasoline on gas consumption, hours worked and time spent in leisure activities among approximately 10,000 Americans surveyed by the federal government in the late 1990s. They found that a 10 percent rise in gasoline prices would decrease gas consumption by 4.3 percent and also increase the hours worked by about two hours per household per year.
Admittedly, a small change. But a potentially useful one to government, which can raise revenue by boosting gas taxes and reduce auto pollution while helping the economy by encouraging people to work longer. Why, that's a win-win-win scenario -- except, of course, for the weary worker.
Why does a bump up in gas prices get people working longer hours?
In a recent working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Williams and West suggest that the increased cost makes leisure driving more expensive, thus encouraging people to spend more time at the office.
Well, maybe. But here's another explanation: People need to put in more hours simply to afford a tankful of gas.