The Hillary Clinton campaign has wrapped itself in the performance of the U.S. Olympians, while Donald Trump has largely ignored the glory. It may not be a coincidence, as American athletes are much more likely to win gold medals and the Olympic Summer Games medal count when a Democrat is President.
Alex Goldstein of Politico writes that
"You'd think Donald Trump would love the Olympics: The flag-waving pageantry, the pure, unbridled patriotism--and, my god, the winning.... But Trump doesn't seem to be interested in the Olympics at all: As Team USA shatters world records and scores win after historic win, Trump's Twitter account, his favored megaphone, has been virtually mum. Since [August 5], Trump has tweeted about the Olympics exactly zero times....Not a word about the events that people are tuning into every night."
According to Business Insider, with an assist from Google, America has won more total medals than any other country. They've also won more gold medals, more silver medals, and more bronze medals, than any other country. Team U.S.A. won about 1.5 times more medals than China, its next closest competitor.
You might believe there's a good reason for Trump's disinterest in American history, that this is an event that has always repeated throughout history every four years, but it hasn't always been that way. It's hard to believe that at times during the Cold War, the U.S. not only failed to win the medal count, but sometimes finished third.
When the U.S. has a Democratic Party President, the country has won seven of nine postwar Olympic contests (gold medals and total medals), for a 77.7% success rate. And that includes the year President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics.
When America has a Republican President, the U.S. has only won the gold medals and total medals 22.2% of the time. And one of those years was when the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc (which finished second in 1976) boycotted the event.
The results were incredibly surprising. I expected a slight Democratic edge, but nothing like this disparity. The question is why.
1) It's The Economy
Before the Olympics, Danyel Reiche, an associate professor of comparative politics at the American University of Beirut, had this to say in the Washington Post:
"What kinds of countries bring home the most Olympic medals? It seems obvious: Those with more wealth and larger populations. After all, rich countries with more people produce more top athletes and have more money to support them. That theory is certainly borne out in the fact that the United States (103 medals, 46 gold) and China (88 medals, 38 gold) brought home the most medals in 2012."
Reiche then debunks the idea that population matters, pointing out the poor performance of India. Other rapid population growers in South Asia and in the Pacific (like Indonesia) have won few medals. And doesn't Russia's population exceed that of the U.S.A.? In 1976 and 1988, East Germany finished ahead of the U.S.A.
But the economy theory isn't as strongly debunked by Reiche, as the U.S.A. and China have the two largest economies in the world. Yes, some poor African nations seem to do better than oil rich emirates, but that is less applicable to the U.S.A. case. Democratic Party administrations tend to preside over stronger economies than Republican ones, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Business Insider, as well as Salon Magazine.
Fareed Zakaria notes in Newsweek that "The United States is the only industrialized country that will not experience a work-force or population loss in the coming decades, thanks to immigration." And Democrats have clearly been more liberal on immigration than their Republican counterparts. Witness how Great Britain bounced back from years of disappointment, thanks to immigrants like Mo Farrah, soon to be knighted.
3) Female Athletes
Reiche contends that support for women plays a key role in the pursuit of Olympic medals, writing
"Promoting women in sports helps nations excel at the Olympics. Why? Because having few women in an Olympic delegation means that a country cannot bring home many medals in women-only events. That's one reason China has been winning more medals recently than any country other than the United States."
4) More Public Support From Democratic Administrations
Just as Donald Trump has been shunning America's Olympic victories, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has been embracing them, according to Goldstein.
"Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is seizing the opportunity to ride the wave of these feel-good Olympics. Since the start of the Rio Games, the Clinton campaign has unleashed a steady flow of social media messages congratulating the athletes and embracing their stories. And she has deliberately piled on by peppering the Olympics broadcast commercial breaks with the same brutal ad, over and over--the one that shows Trump being ridiculed on Letterman for making his clothing lines overseas."
There have been some savvy exceptions, like Ronald Reagan wrapping himself in the glory of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But with the exception of Jimmy Carter, Democrats are more likely to cheer on America's Olympic pursuits. Witness Bill Clinton promote the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A clear contrast came when Republicans cheered while the International Olympic Committee voted against President Barack Obama's efforts to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.