Right before the series started, pollster Ed Sarpolus talked to Bloomberg about the surprising jolt the team's play had given the state. Before the playoffs, when the Tigers were struggling, only a quarter of voters expected the economy to recover over the next six months. After the baseball victories, that rose to 34 percent. And that November, Granholm won by 14 points.
Humans like to find patterns. And the pattern you can read into that is: Excitement and optimism about the Tigers led the state of Michigan to newfound confidence in themselves and in their leadership, to Granholm's benefit. A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seemed to back that idea up. It found that college football home victories improved the electoral chances of incumbents.
"[A] win in the 10 days before Election Day causes the incumbent to receive an additional 1.61 percentage points of the vote in Senate, gubernatorial, and presidential elections," the researchers found, "with the effect being larger for teams with stronger fan support."
There are two catches. The first is that a new study undercuts the 2010 college football research, dramatically. And the second is that the Tigers got crushed in the 2006 World Series, winning only one game against the St. Louis Cardinals and scoring half as many runs as the Cardinals.
The new study, also published in PNAS, looks at a larger set of data to compare electoral results with college football victories. If the idea were true, that college football wins help the incumbent party, that should be the case even more if an incumbent were running. It should be greater in the home county of the team, where fandom is more pronounced. And it should be greater in counties with more interest in college football.
But none of those things were the case. In fact, to the latter point, the effect was only noticeable at all in counties with particularly low interest in their home college football teams, like Boston College and Pitt, and not counties with a lot of interest, like Mississippi and Auburn. They also threw in NFL games, figuring that the increased popularity of the NFL should mean a larger effect. No dice. "[W]e detect no effect of NFL games on elections," the authors write -- which presumably means no effect from the less popular sport of baseball.
To the Associated Press, one of the authors of the original study argued that the new findings might mean that the effect of a victory might not be universal. The authors of the study debunking that one are less generous. "[O]ur results suggest that voters are more competent than previously thought," they write, with a nearly audible sigh. "Because voting behavior seems to be influenced by the economy, natural disasters, and the performance of elected officials but not by football games, voters may be reasonably capable of distinguishing irrelevant factors from those for which the government can influence, prepare for, or respond."
Meaning that Granholm's election might have relied more on her skills as a governor than her happening to govern a city with a successful baseball team. That's a finding that will be a huge relief to the mayors of Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago during this particular baseball season.