Could college football affect the Presidential race?

Forget the debates, college football will decide this election. (Getty Images)

On Saturday November 3 both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be making the final push in their Presidential campaigns, but instead of going door-to-door for votes, each candidate may want to spend some time in football locker rooms giving pep talks.

A new study shows that there may be a correlation between the outcome of an election with the results of college football games the previous Saturday.

Recent research has revealed that voter irrationality may be more arbitrary than we think. And in a razor-thin election just enough irrationality can make all the difference. Just how irrational are voters? It is statistically possible that the outcome of a handful of college football games in the right battleground states could determine the race for the White House.

Economists Andrew Healy, Neil Malhotra, and Cecilia Mo make this argument in a fascinating article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. They examined whether the outcomes of college football games on the eve of elections for presidents, senators, and governors affected the choices voters made. They found that a win by the local team, in the week before an election, raises the vote going to the incumbent by around 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. That’s a lot of votes, certainly more than the margin of victory in a tight race. And these results aren’t based on just a handful of games or political seasons; the data were taken from 62 big-time college teams from 1964 to 2008.

While the idea itself seems ridiculous, it also makes a lot of sense when you really think about it. For many undecided voters the decision often comes down to how their life is at the time. If things are going well, odds are they'll vote for the incumbent. If life is rough and things are going downhill, well, then it's about time for a change.

And how many things make you feel better or worse than your favorite college football team winning or losing? The old alma mater pulling off an upset may just send you to the voting booth chanting "four more years!"

So, for example, in this year's Presidential election the states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia are considered to be some critical swing states for both candidates. Which means that games in those states the Saturday before the election could have a say in who the next President of the United States will be.

So who should Barack Obama and Mitt Romney be rooting for that weekend? Well, being as impartial in this as we are, we decided to make a handy chart for each of them. Good luck.

Barack Obama
Mitt Romney

Wow, this election might be even closer than we thought.

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories