Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled Fun (?) With Sporting Events As Predictors Of Election Results

Desperate to know how this Tuesday's election will turn out? Uninterested in complicated mathematics that can predict the winner with a fairly high degree of accuracy? Superstitious or just simple-minded? Can we interest you in…a series of sports-related coincidences?!


The "Redskins Rule" has been a known quantity for a long time: in 17 of the 18 presidential elections since the Redskins moved to DC in 1937, a Redskins loss has preceded a loss for the incumbent, while a Redskins win has preceded a win for the incumbent. If you modify the rule-as it's inventor and namer, Steve Hirdt of Elias Sports, did after the 2004 election-to be that a Redskins win will precede a win for the winner of the popular vote in the previous election, it's a perfect 18 for 18. (George W. Bush won a second term, even though the Redskins lost to the Packers the previous Sunday.) The Carolina Panthers haul their five-game losing streak up to FedEx Field today to play a Redskins team that's coming off of a close loss to the Giants two weeks ago, and a blowout to the Steelers last Sunday. Advantage: Obama, probably.

The early November game of the Bama-LSU rivalry isn't always before election day, but it's results have still correlated strongly with presidential election outcomes in cycles going back to 1984. As noted here, in election years where Alabama wins the game, the Democratic candidate has won, while LSU has won in years when the Republican did too. As you are no doubt aware, Alabama pulled off a come-from-behind victory to steal what looked like a sure upset, and the more useless of the many Democratic strategists working on Saturday night breathed a sigh of relief. Advantage: Obama.


A poorer predictor-these are all poor, but this one doesn't even have all the impressive a degree of correlation-can be found in the winner of the World Series: 67% of the time a National League team has won, a Democratic candidate has won the election, dating back to FDR and a Reds win over the Tigers in 1940. The Giants, if you did not know, won the World Series this year. Advantage: Obama.

Causation (frighteningly) comes into play where college football teams in swing states play the Saturday prior to the election. Social scientists wrote a paper called "Irrelevant events affect voters' evaluations of government performance" that found the following (as summarized here):

[A] win by the local team, in the week before an election, raises the vote going to the incumbent by about 1.5 percentage points.

When it comes to the 20 highest-attendance teams - big athletic programs like the University of Michigan, Oklahoma and Southern Cal - a victory on the eve of an election pushes the vote for the incumbent up by 3 percentage points.

The data was taken from 62 "big-time" college programs from election cycles between 1964-2008. The big programs from states most in contention split about evenly: Colorado got rolled by Stanford yesterday, and Iowa lost to Indiana, but Ohio State crushed Illinois, Florida beat Missouri, and UNLV beat New Mexico to move to 2-8 on the season. Advantage: Well, the original study never said anything about big program losses benefiting the challenger, but we'll call it a push.

There you have it, folks: all the jokey pseudo-analysis sports fan political pundits will throw out there now that all the real numbers have been crunched. Things-irrelevant, coincidental things-still look pretty good for the Commander-in-Chief, although the election largely hinges on today's Redskins game. - Isaac Rauch

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