No, football doesn’t predict elections
Butch Dill/AP images

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No, football doesn’t predict elections

If you want to know how the next presidential election is going to turn out, don’t turn on the football game. Five years ago, researchers reported that a victory by the local college team within 2 weeks of an election led voters to favor incumbents in local, state, and federal elections at the ballot box, giving some candidates as much as a 2.42-point advantage over their opponents. The work suggested fans’ giddiness over their team’s win prompted a desire to stick with the status quo. Now, a study published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds no such effect. The researchers used the same methods as the previous study, but broadened the data set to include voters’ interest in specific college teams. They examined football results and election outcomes between 1960 and 2014, where a Division I-A college team from a major conference played games in both weeks preceding a presidential, senatorial, or gubernatorial election in the college’s home state. They then looked at voters’ preferred teams (based on likes of team pages on individuals’ Facebook pages). If the purported link was genuine, and not just a coincidence, the boost to incumbents would be greatest in counties where interest in college football was highest. That wasn’t the case. They also found no correlation in cases in which multiple elections involving incumbents in different parties occurred in the same place and year. They even added National Football League games and team preferences to the list, but again, no link. The original study design was sound, the new study’s authors wrote, but the findings “were a false positive that arose through bad luck.”