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in november, root for the home team…

Over the weekend, a friend mentioned that she’d read a blurb about politics and sports that she thought I might be interested in. I got ahold of some news coverage of the study in question, and the short synopsis is that voters are more inclined to support incumbents when their local college sports team has recently won a game. The research comes out of Stanford (my quick look online isn’t turning up the actual article) and seems to be pretty carefully done: it pairs a natural experiment with a large (N=3000) survey & in both cases the ‘afterglow’ effect is present.

Study 1:

So Malhotra and his colleagues tallied up the wins and losses of 62 Division I college football teams from 1964 through 2008 and found how voters in each team’s home county behaved. A local football team’s win in the 10 days before an election garnered the incumbent senator, governor or president (or his or her political party) an extra 1.61 percentage points of the vote, the researchers found. They found no effect for games played earlier than two weeks before the election, suggesting that the game must be fresh in the voter’s mind to have an effect.


Study 2:

In a second analysis, researchers surveyed over 3,000 people at three times during the 2009 NCAA college basketball tournament. Respondents were asked to name their favorite team and then were asked to rate the performance of President Obama. On average, people whose favorite teams had just won a March Madness game rated the president 2.3 percentage points higher than did those whose teams had recently lost.


Studies like this are fascinating because they show how fickle the public can be en masse. Clearly, the effects that Malhotra & co. found are only in the 1-3% range, but elections have obviously been decided by less. If you’re a Democrat, you should be hoping that the college football teams in swing states sweep their games come November…


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