A “softball question” is a question that is easy to answer. Political candidates usually like softball questions because answering them makes the candidates appear strong and in control. The term “softball question” has been cited in print since at least 1974.
“Hardball” is also a political term and is much tougher than softball.
Online Etymological Dictionary
softball baseball of larger than usual size, used in a scaled-down version of the game, 1914, from soft + ball. The game itself so called from 1926, earlier known as playground baseball. The word earlier was a term in sugar candy making (1894). Softball question, one that is easy to answer, is attested from 1976.
(Oxford Engiish Dictionary)
softball question n. a question that is easy to answer.
1976 New Society 28 Oct. 209/3 ‘Why Switzerland?’ may seem the ultimate softball question, its answer to be found behind those discreet name-plates along Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse.
2 April 1974, Xenia Daily Gazette, “Intriguing mystery” by Rev. Lester Kinsolving, pg. 4, col. 6:
The strategy is to visit—and to mightily milk for applause—very carefully selected audiences. Such audiences as can be depended upon to offer softball questions—perhaps not intentionally, but due generally to inexperience plus natural awe forthe nation’s highest office.
December 1974, Texas Monthly, “The Unveiling Of Lloyd Bentsen” by Al Reinert, pg. 66, col. 1:
It was a softball question, more petty curiosity than serious inquiry, a byproduct of research into the Senator’s past: a small yellow newspaper clip, a quarter-century old and three sentences long, to the effect that an unnamed game warden had been mildly reprimanded for “accidently” shooting at young congressman-elect Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr.
15 March 1976, Yuma Daily Sun, “Reagan done in” by John Lofton, pg. 4, col. 1:
Appearing on “Meet the Press” the Sunday before the primary, Mr. Reagan was asked a real softball question, one that he should have knocked 580 feet over the left-field fence.
21 October 1976, Boston (MA) Globe, “Ford’s farewell to a campaign cocoon” by Martin Nolan, pg. 18:
If he wants to whack at a softball question, he knows the identity of eager sycophants.
Google News Archive
7 November 1976, Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA), “He could have been had” by John D. Lofton, Jr., pg. 4, col. 4:
Rather than attacking Carter, putting him on the defensive and making him the issue—thus capitalizing on the fears of many voters who were until the last minute uncertain aboutthe Democratic presidential nominee—Ford chose instead to air a series of half-hour puff pieces. These featured old home movies, personal testimonials from the family and the President’s personal photographer, and a series of softball questions from sports broadcaster Joe Garagiola.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics • (0) Comments • Tuesday, July 03, 2012 • Permalink