The Sport of Politics

Breaking down the ultimate American competition

ABC News

Race: “A competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.”

Picture a stadium or a large race track where people are running toward the finish line. The finish line, in this case, is a political office. Like sprinters in a dash, they run for first place — toward victory. And not everyone can run. Some people don’t like it and some people just can’t. Running, in the sport of running and in politics, takes guts. It takes sacrifice and discipline and the willingness to risk almost everything for the win. The rest of us find ourselves spectating on the bleachers. Spectators play a vital role in this process, however. As we see the marathon develop before us, we talk to our fellow men & women on the bleachers. These people symbolize our neighbors, our friends, our family, our coworkers, our associates. The conversation may start at a respectfully neutral point, but what may transpire could be a cacophony of criticism from two different points of view. The conversation might happen on a social media platform, a trade of ideas in the comment section of a post. The media’s substitute in this analogy can be the paperboys/papergirls. They wave their publications in the air screaming “EXTRA! EXTRA!” In print rests a neat headline of support for someone in the race. These are endorsements, and maybe more undecided people make up their minds following the reading of this print. The coaches are campaign managers and pollsters, yelling from the dugout. After millions of spectators exchange dialogue, most of the public has decided who to root for once the race is nearing its end. Broadcasters, who aptly represent career political pundits, might forecast a photo-finish. Thus, the hype is intensified and more people flock to the stadium. More food and beer is purchased from the concession stands. In a perfect world, the best of the two runners wins the race — i.e. the most talented and prepared person wins. That’s far from reality because the reality is far from perfect; people are far from perfect. Sometimes the person who crosses the finish line first didn’t really deserve it. In a lot of races, the victor was initially a dark horse. In the end, a winner emerges. Almost half of the spectators are upset with the result. The other half is content. The gray area between these two groups represents a people who hold an odd indifference to the product.


The race analogy isn’t ideal for every situation. A lot of other sports come to mind, depending on the political climate or event. Ads on the television play out like a tennis match, a back-and-forth of defense and offense. Debates are billed like boxing matches; two days before a meeting between two candidates, news outlets display, adjacent to the “LIVE” notice, a countdown. These digital clocks are striking, often showing how many seconds are left before liftoff. (Bombs come to mind too.) And it’s effective marketing. Whether you watch the news daily or are waiting in an airport terminal for your next flight, the counting down grabs your attention because it’s always moving. By the time the numbers hit zero, you better have the popcorn ready. You had two days to get it ready.

The Drive

The Optics

“Clothes make the man.”

Looks matter in the political world. The taller the presidential candidate, the better their odds are at winning the White House. The historical odds are surprisingly high. This height index captured the attention of a political science professor, Gregg Murray. He’s now at Augusta University in Georgia. During his tenure at Texas Tech, he was intrigued by the facts: “The taller of the Republican and Democrat candidates emerged victorious in 58 percent of US presidential elections between 1789 and 2008.” The taller of the candidates also won the popular vote in 67% of those elections. Murray went on to ask volunteers (467 students) to draw leaders and ordinary citizens. The depicted leaders were taller than the citizens 64% of the time. In those instances, the leaders were 12% taller than the citizen. While most of the students who partook in the survey were from North America, some of them came from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This pointed to an opinion, perhaps subconscious, that pointed to the universal belief that taller people make better leaders. There’s more depth to this, however; it’s a matter that concerns evolution. Dr. Murray explains: “Our ancestors lived in groups that were constantly engaged in conflicts that were resolved through physical violence. If you are in a group and the enemy hordes are coming over the hill, what you want them to see is the big person out front so they know they face a tough battle.”

How We Got Here

TIME/CSA Images/Getty Images

“There is nothing I dread So much, as a Division of the Republick into two great Parties, each arranged under its Leader, and concerting Measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble Apprehension is to be dreaded as the greatest political Evil, under our Constitution.” — John Adams

The Third Party

Jill Stein/The Daily Beast

Freelance writer. Athlete. Texan. I consume a lot of news and my secretary looks a lot like me, but with glasses on. Email:

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