The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Community News Network

November 2, 2012

Did your team win? That might affect how you vote

If President Obama wins Franklin County, Ohio - a critical locale in a critical swing state - on Tuesday, he might want to write a thank-you note to Ohio State's football team. The Buckeyes defeated Penn State last week, thereby enhancing Obama's chances of taking central Ohio.

This isn't a guess. It's science - social science. Research shows that voters in a college team's home county tend to reward the incumbent presidential candidate after the local team wins two weeks before the election. The effect is often significant.

When it comes to predicting voter behavior, academics, pundits and reporters tend to train their attention on the big stuff - party affiliation, incumbent approval ratings, the state of the economy. All good. But like all human behaviors, voting can't be entirely reduced to an abstract set of numbers marching across a PowerPoint display. As an emerging body of research suggests, voting reflects the same whims, quirks and emotional crosscurrents that make humans such unpredictable creatures.

So, seemingly irrelevant things - where you vote, which team won on Saturday, what order the candidates' names appear on the ballot, etc. - all have small but measurable effects on voting outcomes, social scientists say. And in an election that is expected to be as close as this one, small things can turn into very big things.

Take football games. The performance of a bunch of muscled behemoths would seem about as important to a presidential vote as whether you burned your toast this morning. Which is why it was the perfect variable for a 2010 study entitled, "Irrelevant Events Affect Voters' Evaluations of Government Performance." Researchers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Stanford University's business school sought to test whether an otherwise random and seemingly arbitrary event - the outcome of college football games - showed any correlation with the results of presidential, Senate and gubernatorial elections.

 And it did, consistently, in every election between 1964 and 2008. On average, the researchers found, a victory by a hometown team 10 days before the election resulted in incumbent candidates receiving an additional 1.61 percentage points of the vote in the team's county. A victory by an avidly followed, perpetual powerhouse team (like, say, Ohio State) had an even more significant effect, as much as 3.35 percentage points.

Why? The results suggest that the emotional state of voters is an important component in understanding their behavior, says Stanford professor Neil Malhotra, one of the study's authors. If they feel good, that can translate into how they vote. And if they feel good when they vote, they generally reward the incumbent, the embodiment of the status quo, he says.

To test this theory, Malhotra and his colleagues did a parallel experiment involving NCAA basketball fans. They asked people who identified themselves as fans of teams that had advanced to the NCAA championship tournament's later rounds in 2009 to rate Obama's job performance. Result: The further the respondents' teams advanced, the higher their approval of Obama. Another recent study found a relatively high correlation between local sports teams' success and mayoral reelection rates.

Assessing voters' emotional states can, of course, be a tricky business. A new study purporting to show a link between menstrual cycles and women's voting patterns has been questioned - well, trashed - by some researchers; a news article about it was recently removed from CNN.com amid an outcry. Nevertheless, one of the study's authors, Kristina Durante of the University of Texas at San Antonio, says she stands by her findings.

Other behavioral research has plied less-controversial territory. Studies about the effect of a candidate's location on the ballot, for example, stretch back for decades. Generally speaking, having your name listed first seems to convey a marginal but important advantage, especially in elections in which the candidates aren't well-known.

 Where you vote can also influence how you vote, too. People who voted at a poll located within a school in Arizona in 2000, for example, were more likely to support a state initiative to increase funding for education than people who voted elsewhere, according to a 2008 study. The effect wasn't huge - 55 percent of school-based voters supported the measure vs. 53.1 percent overall - but it was significant. It also persisted when the researchers zeroed in on where voters lived, their party identity or demographic factors such as age or sex.

The finding may have implications for Question 6, the Maryland ballot initiative to ratify or reject the state's same-sex marriage law. Just as a school can trigger positive or negative associations within a voter, those deciding Question 6 could be influenced by voting in a church or religious institution, says Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania who co-wrote the Arizona study.

"I'd be surprised if people weren't affected by it," he says. "My gut leads me to think they'd vote against it, but it's hard to say in aggregate. If the church reminds you about caring for others, about caring for mankind, it could go the other way."

Text Only
Community News Network
  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 21, 2014

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • A quarter of the world's most educated people live in the 100 largest cities

    College graduates are increasingly sorting themselves into high-cost, high-amenity cities such as Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco, a phenomenon that threatens to segregate us across the country by education.

    July 18, 2014

  • Your chocolate addiction is only going to get more expensive

    For nearly two years, cocoa prices have been on the rise. Finally, that's affecting the price you pay for a bar of chocolate - and there's reason to believe it's only the beginning.

    July 18, 2014

  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 17, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • web_starbucks-cof_big_ce.jpg Starbucks sees more Apple-like stores after Colombia debut

    This week Starbucks opened its first location in Colombia — a 2,700-square-foot store with a heated patio, concrete columns, mirrors on the ceiling and walls of colorful plants.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

E-edition
AP Video
Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die Raw: MH17 Passenger Remains in Kharkiv, Ukraine Raw: Israel Hits Gaza Targets, Destroys Mosques ShowBiz Minute: Hoffman, Oberst, Box Office WWII Vet Gets Medals, 70 Years Late Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks From Space Station Widow: Jury Sent Big Tobacco a $23B Message New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong
NDN Video
Train Collides With Semi Truck Carrying Lighter Fluid Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Guilty Dog Apologizes to Baby for Stealing Her Toy Kanye West Tells-All on Wedding in "GQ" Interview Tony Dungy Weighs in on Michael Sam Scarlett Johansson Set To Marry In August New Star Wars Episode XII X-Wing Revealed Obama: Putin must push separatists to aid MH17 probe Michigan inmates no longer allowed to wear orange due to 'OITNB' Adam Levine Ties the Knot Sebastian The Ibis Walks Beautiful Bride Down The Aisle | ACC Must See Moment NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Faces of Souls Lost in Malaysian Plane Crash 105-year-old woman throws first pitch Man Creates Spreadsheet of Wife's Reasons for Turning Down Sex 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success Rory McIlroy struggles, surges, wins British Open NOW TRENDING: Real life Pac-Man Explosions as hot air balloon crashes in Clinton DUI Driver Dragged to Safety by Officer After Walking Onto Busy Freeway
Must Read