Sports and Elections: There’s Actually Research!

Howard’s last post was largely about superstition (not that there’s anything wrong with that, or at least not anything that can be pointed to by someone who will still break out an old Anthony Mason “Mase in Yo Face” t-shirt for good luck during key Knicks games.)   But there’s actually some really interesting research on the effect of sports on election results.  Andrew J. Healy, Neil Malhotra & Cecilia H. Mo used college football results to test the effect of politically irrelevant information on voter behavior.  They “find that a victory by the local college football team in the ten days before Election Day leads to a significant increase in incumbent vote share.”  College basketball results during March Madness had a similar effect on support for the President and perceptions of national success — voters in areas with teams that made it to the FInal Four were more likely to think the country was going in the right direction.

For the voting research, this is an important result, as it shows that non-political information has a real effect on elections and that this interacts with the well-supported finding that voters’ are extremely myopic (e.g. they care much more about the economic performance in the 4th year of a President’s term than the 3rd).   For Howard’s purposes – the results most likely to the help the President —  what he should root for, I think, is for teams in swing states to win (assuming pro and college sports have similar effects). He should probably root for the Cincinnati Reds.  In football, Cleveland (ouch), Cincinnati, Carolina and Green Bay.  Also, Washington isn’t a bad choice, given how many fans they have in NoVa.

If you’re interested in how election laws can be shaped to mitigate the effects of this type of irrational behavior, check out my new paper with Chris Elmendorf, Informing Consent: Voter Ignorance, Political Parties and Election Law

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