College Football and Tuesday's Elections

Three of my political science colleagues conducted research showing that winning/losing that Saturday game could boost or cost the incumbent party and its gubernatorial candidate an average of 10 percent in the Tuesday election.
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It is time!

November 1!

Big Saturday (college football) before Big Tuesday (mid-term elections)!

Political/Football fans may recall my column a few months ago when I reported research suggesting that winning or losing a big college football game the weekend right before the big election seemed to help or hurt incumbent parties and governors.

Football-Elections Theory.

You can read the details about that research by clicking here. I'll summarize it for your convenience: Three of my political science colleagues conducted research showing that winning/losing that Saturday game could boost or cost the incumbent party and its gubernatorial candidate an average of 10 percent in the Tuesday election. It seems that a big pre-election game means a great deal to feelings of well-being for some folks, just as does rainy weather or the state of the economy.

At least that's the theory presented by Keith Lee (a doctoral student at the University of Florida), Sydny Bryan (an MPA student at Valdosta State University), and Dr. James LaPlant (a professor at Valdosta State University) at this past Spring's Southern Politics Symposium at The Citadel in Charleston. They found that the outcome translated, statistically, into an average 10 percent plus or minus for the incumbent party in the local counties of those teams, based on all gubernatorial elections across 41 states during the 2010-2012 period. (I know I'm extrapolating from county to state elections--but that's my prerogative in trying to add some special interest to this election for sports fanatics.)

Actually, Jim LaPlant, one of the three authors of this research, told me today that they have refined their thesis somewhat: "Our most recent multivariate model shows that wins right before the election benefit the incumbent gubernatorial candidate/party by about 3.5 percentage points after we control for prior vote share as well as demographic and socio-economic factors." Thanks for the update. Still, that's a big margin of advantage or deficit in a tight race.

I also speculated--whimsically--in my original post that this could be very critical for the incumbent party in Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas in 2014; and whoever was elected could have major ramifications on the 2016 presidential election.

Of course, it is only a statistical theory or hypothetical connection between football and politics; but it gives us something to talk about as we're inundated with ugly commercials these last few days of the campaign.

Pre-Game Line-ups and Current Point Spreads.

So, let's play along and see what the field looks like at this point (Noon Thursday before Big Saturday).

You can strike Texas and Ohio from my earlier list because Greg Abbott (R) and John Kasich (R) seem to be sailing clear toward victory. To keep our game card full, I'll sub Georgia and Michigan, both with competitive races and national importance, in this post.

Therefore, Nathan Deal (R) of Georgia, Rick Scott (R) of Florida, Pat Quinn (D) of Illinois, and Rick Snyder (R) of Michigan all have reason to be sweating as their flagship universities take the field this Saturday. All four of them seem on tenuous ground considering a combination of their college football prospects this weekend and their combined, averaged polling numbers for election day as calculated by

  • Deal (R) is in a relatively comfortable position among the four incumbent governors. According to the latest poll rating, Deal leads Democrat Jason Carter by an averaged 2.0 percent. Just as importantly, his No. 11 ranked University of Georgia Bulldogs are 6-1 going into their game with unranked Florida (3-3) at Jacksonville, FL.

  • Scott (R), on the other hand, trails Charlie Crist (D) by 1.7 percent. He is counting on the Gators, who are having a mediocre year so far (3-3), to upset the visitors from Athens.
  • In Illinois, Quinn (D) is nursing a meager 1.0 percentage lead over Bruce Rauner (R). He's hoping his Illini (4-4) can hold off No. 16 Ohio State (6-1); but they play at Columbus, OH.
  • Snyder (R) of Michigan has the largest lead among these governors, a 2.8 percentage margin over Mark Schauer (D); but his team, the University of Michigan is having a losing season so far, at 3-5; they host Indiana, also upside down with a 3-4 record.
  • I'm sure that the two national party leaders, Reince Priebus (Republican) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Democrat), also will be keeping an eye on these games because of their home state ties. Wasserman Schultz has her fingers crossed for Crist in Jacksonville; obviously, Florida would be a nice 2014 victory and represents a big chunk of votes in the 2016 presidential campaign. And Priebus has extra anxiety beyond the critical races in these states. His own home state governor, Scott Walker (R), who is thinking about running for president in 2016, is fighting tooth-and-nail with Mary Burke (D). Walker holds a narrow 2.0 percent lead over Burke; so Priebus is probably keeping one eye on the games in Jacksonville, Columbus, and Ann Arbor and his other eye on the Wisconsin Badgers (5-2), as they hit the road to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-3) in New Jersey.
  • Prediction.

    So, sometime late on Big Saturday, we'll start honing our speculations; and sometime late on Big Tuesday, we'll be able to judge this wacky notion of whether college football impacts electoral politics.

    All of which brings us to my one bold prediction.

    If the gubernatorial outcomes in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey accord with this statistical theory, I'll be back here next week bragging about how "Hey, I called this election months ago!" Or, if this theory falters, I'll be back online saying "I knew it all along. Only a fool would believe that football games have anything to do with who wins elections!"

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