Study shows that some voters blame incumbent politicians if their home team loses a sporting event

If it turns out that the presidential race is decided in Ohio or perhaps Florida, as some pundits predict, it might also be that the outcome of certain college football games will have an effect on the election.

That’s the inference from a study SHOWING that sporting events can influence the attitudes of some voters:

Recent research has revealed that voter irrationality may be more arbitrary than we think. And in a razor-thin election just enough irrationality can make all the difference. Just how irrational are voters? It is statistically possible that the outcome of a handful of college football games in the right battleground states could determine the race for the White House.

Economists Andrew Healy, Neil Malhotra, and Cecilia Mo make this argument in a fascinating article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. They examined whether the outcomes of college football games on the eve of elections for presidents, senators, and governors affected the choices voters made. They found that a win by the local team, in the week before an election, raises the vote going to the incumbent by around 1.5 percentage points. When it comes to the 20 highest attendance teams—big athletic programs like the University of Michigan, Oklahoma, and Southern Cal—a victory on the eve of an election pushes the vote for the incumbent up by 3 percentage points. That’s a lot of votes, certainly more than the margin of victory in a tight race. And these results aren’t based on just a handful of games or political seasons; the data were taken from 62 big-time college teams from 1964 to 2008.


On Oct. 27, a little more than a week before the election, the Ohio State Buckeyes have a big football game against Penn State. The University of Florida Gators have a huge match up against the University of Georgia Bulldogs. If the election remains razor close, these games in these two key battleground states could affect who sits in the White House for the next four years.


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