The MLB All-Star Game As Obama Referendum

President Obama will throw out the first pitch at the MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis July 14, becoming the fourth sitting president to do so (Kennedy, Nixon, and Ford being the others). Obama is no stranger to St. Louis--he held a massive, record-breaking campaign rally there under the Gateway Arch in October, drawing 100,000; he spent his 100th day as president there, holding a town hall meeting, talking about the economy, health care, and energy/the environment in the suburbs.

Sporting events offer a remarkably raw window into the sentiments of the hoi polloi, and Obama, no doubt, will be judged--by cheers, boos, or both. Although it's the first pitch, fans will have been enjoying the festivities all day. They won't be on their first beers--and they won't be afraid to show their true colors. Just ask President Bush, who was booed and jeered by Washington Nationals fans when he threw out a first pitch in March of 2008. Or Dick Cheney, who got a similar reception in DC in 2006. That wasn't the end for Bush, though--he was greeted by an enthusiastic, hometown cheer when he returned to the mound at Rangers Ballpark for a first pitch in Dallas this April for the team he formerly owned.

This is America. We reserve the right to boo, or cheer--loudly. Especially at baseball games.

So what kind of reception will Obama get? If his national favorable/unfavorable ratings are a good indication, 61 percent of the crowd will cheer and 34.3 percent will boo. Or if job approval ratings can presage it, 57.3 percent will applaud and 38.6 will hiss. (Does one cheer out of affinity or satisfaction--and is cheering a referendum on personality or effect? Is there a civic duty to boo if you have questions about his governance, even though you like him? 3.7 percent could face that dilemma.)

As for his local popularity, Obama won St. Louis City and County handily in November (Missouri results map here), raking in 83.7 and 59.5 percent of the vote, respectively. But he lost the state to John McCain by .1 percent, and, along with two other districts to the south and two more across the Mississippi river in Illinois, that clump of support was isolated in a sea of red. Two of the surrounding counties went to McCain by ten percent, and Obama only won nine of Missouri's 116 voting districts.

All-star fans, however, will come from across the region and the country to see the game. It will be a more national audience.

But there could, presumably, be more fans from the Midwest than any other region, having driven in for the event, and a few network news features since January have focused on cities and towns in the Midwest, St. Louis included, as skeptical of Obama's economic policies, specifically the stimulus. Around his 100-day mark, there were questions about when the jobs would arrive. (Though, to be fair, those stories involved interviews with only a few people.)

The jobs still haven't come, and conservatives are genuinely concerned about government debt. We know Obama's national approval numbers, but a baseball game in the middle of the country might test the demography of that support.

My prediction: Obama will get an emphatic, massive cheer. If there are economic doubts, they'll probably be drowned out. But if they're significant, we'll hear them.