NEW YORK -- Last Sunday evening, just a few hours after anti-Bush protesters left the area, a charter bus stopped in Greenwich Village and disgorged a group of middle-aged revelers in evening wear and delegate badges. Looking at the storefronts, it might have been hard to guess where they were going. But the place to be the night before the official start of the Republican National Convention -- if you couldn't get into the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute to Southern Congressional delegations -- was the bowling alley.
Perhaps this quintessential working-class activity was supposed to drive home the idea that Republicans are more in touch with ordinary folks than their rivals. The event, which featured the convention parliamentarian, Representative David Dreier of California, succeeded in bringing out hundreds of Convention revelers who rolled to the beat of deafening Reagan-era rock.
Bowlmor Lanes, with its retro-hip decor (pumped up by a live trapeze artist and Warhol-style portraits of Dreier), is not your typical bowling alley. It claims to be the highest grossing bowling venue in the country. You can have a bar mitzvah there, not to mention a stiff cosmopolitan. But if you're just looking for a cheap night out with the family, bowling is definitely an activity better done in Red America. Bowlmor charges almost $9 per game, compared with the national average of $2, according to bowling.com.But is bowling really a red-state sport? Mike Anderson, a spokesman for AMF Bowling, America's largest bowling alley owner and operator, assures me that bowling is "completely bipartisan." Indeed, a recent study of bowling trends suggests that bowling is no more popular in the states that went for Bush in 2000 than in the states that went for Gore. In his book "Bowling Alone," Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam identified bowling leagues and churchgoing as indicators of civic health. While Republicans are more likely to attend church, no one knows if they're more likely to bowl.
So, should George Bush don bowling shoes while John Kerry is out windsurfing? According to a survey by American Sports Data, 55 million people bowled in 2003, and more than a third of frequent participants were under the age of 24. Playing to the bowlers may get Bush more of the MTV crowd, though it may not help him with some other groups he needs. For example, among people with advanced degrees, who voted overwhelmingly for Gore in 2000, only 2.4 percent bowl frequently.
Looking at the American Sports Data bowling map, however, Karl Rove might see the reason for a bowling ad campaign. Out of the nine regions studied, bowling rates are highest in the East North Central, West North Central, and Mountain regions, which include some of the most important swing states in the 2004 election: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, and Missouri. Come November, those are some pins Republicans need to knock down.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is an adjunct fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of the forthcoming book "God on the Quad."