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Sports fans as potential Republicans?

Brad Miner writes:

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, I [Miner] want to write about sports, which I consider a key to building a larger conservative coalition in America. . . .

If you did a survey of the political philosophies of 75,000 randomly selected Americans you’d expect the usual–if somewhat mystifying–results: “Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal (21%), while 38% say they are conservative and 36% describe themselves as moderate.” So said the folks at Pew Research, and this was after the November election.

Do that same poll among the fans at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sunday and the results would likely be more like 15% liberal, 30% moderate, and 50% conservative. And a bunch of those liberals would probably be gun owners.

Obviously those numbers are just speculation on my part, but I guarantee that Steelers fans are more conservative than all Pennsylvanians and ditto Cardinals devotees and the rest of Arizona. Which is not to say that these folks cast their ballots in November more for McCain than Obama. That’s the problem.

What do the data say?

Yu-Sung and I looked at the “attended sporting event in the past year” item in the General Social Survey. (Unfortunately, the question was only asked once, in the 1993-1996 survey.) 56% of respondents said they attended an amateur or professional sports event” during the past twelve months. How do they differ from the 44% who didn’t?


So, at least in the mid-1990s, sports attenders were quite a bit more Republican than other Americans (the categories in the graph above are Strong Democrat, Democrat, lean Democrat, Independent, lean Republican, Republican, strong Republican), but not much different in their liberal-conservative ideology.

So these data do not appear to support Miner’s claim. Miner expected sports fans to be label themselves as more conservative but maybe not to be more likely to vote Republican; actually, sports fans were more likely to call themselves Republican but no more likely to describe themselves as conservative.

Some other issues:

1. The sporting event attended could be the Super Bowl or your kid’s soccer game. Maybe more dramatic results would be obtained by considering a more restricted group of sports fans.

2. There are lots of surveys of TV watching, so I’m sure there are tons of data that would let you crosstab ideology, voting, and spectator sports watching.

3. More generally, we never want to rely too strongly on just one survey. Still, it’s fun to look.

P.S. Sometimes people ask me how much time blogging takes me. This took about an hour: 15 minutes for me to read Miner’s article and think about it, 10 minutes for Yu-Sung to get the crosstabs, 20 minutes for me to make the graphs, and 15 minutes for me to write the blog entry.

And, yes, this means I have a lot of real work that I’ve been putting off. . . .


  1. Corey says:

    "15% liberal, 30% moderate, and 50% conservative"

    …and 5% innumerate, I guess.

  2. Rick says:

    It isn't clear that self-identification as conservative is the same as being a (potential) member of a conservative coalition. The Declaration of Independence–a liberal document, in my opinion–says

    "Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

    So radical liberal revolutionaries can be conservative also.

  3. Dylan says:

    On point 1: I wonder how many of the amateur-or-professional-sports-event-attenders attended only a college sports contest? Miner was making a prediction about professional sports, and I suspect that the opposite of what he's saying is true of people attending college sports contests (in virtue of the fact that so many of them will be college students — a generally liberal group). Perhaps, then, this data doesn't provide much evidence against Miner's claim. Of course this is all just speculation.

  4. C. Zorn says:

    FYI: In an earlier version of the dreaded DH paper, Jeff Gill and I find that both Republicans and Democrats (vs. self-identified independents) are more likely to say they are "somewhat" or "very" interested in watching major league baseball. There was no difference between partisans, however. (This was based on one (1997) national survey of around 1000 respondents.)

  5. Ubs says:

    "… but I guarantee that Steelers fans are more conservative than all Pennsylvanians."

    Well that claim is easy enough. Surely Pennsylvanians in the western part of the state are significnatly more conservative than those in the eastern part.

  6. William says:

    That partisans are more likely to follow sports gives me more evidence for my (unoriginal) theory that sports and politics are similar, at least for partisans. For example, look at how easily Keith Olbermann transitioned from sports commentator to political commentator.

    Also, the following poll probably belongs in this thread:

    According to these polls and party ID estimates(for the Triangle I use the ACC loyalty poll's full results: 48% D 30% R 22% Other; for the state as a whole I use a later poll because I couldn't find their original poll, which gives us 49% D 35% R 16% Other) we can see that UNC fans are somewhat more Democratic than the average person in the area, State fans somewhat more Republican, and Duke fans much more Republican. Of course, this is only two polls, but it's still interesting.

  7. John Nienstedt says:

    We — Competitive Edge Research — surveyed San Diegans back in 2005 and found that ideology is (was) significantly related to baseball fandom. This was after controlling for other demographic factors. Specifically, as you move from left to right on the ideological spectrum, the number of baseball fans increase and baseball fan intesity increases. At the time, Padres brass told me that, while they had suspected such a relationship existed, they had never seen data to support it. Report is on our site (… on page 2, although there is no nifty chart illustrating the relationship.