Will the Super Bowl influence fans’ political views? I bet on it.
Damian R. studies Murray, a psychologist at Tulane University, explores how different social circumstances and life events influence people’s political views. For example, I recently discovered that being a parent makes it difficult The person becomes more socially conservative. On the eve of the Super Bowl, he gave an interview to The New York Times to discuss another recent study, which examined how sports fans’ political views can be changed by their teams’ wins and losses.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What inspired this work?
These games are very emotionally powerful, and people are very emotionally invested. The question is: What are the real-world implications of things that have nothing to do with the sporting event itself? Are there consequences for political attitudes or voting patterns, or for our group affiliations?
To be clear, we’re talking about fans, not people actually playing the game.
right. As viewers, we witness the ups and downs of athletes we have no relation to. The physical changes we experience, whether players win or lose, are essentially zero. But we are still continuing on this psychological journey.
Can you describe the research?
We did Two different studies in two different populations. The first sample was of British citizens in England during the 2016 European Cup.
A month-long tournament held every four years to determine the best national football team in Europe.
It’s huge out there, the closest thing to a Super Bowl, outside of a World Cup. So we sampled the Brits immediately after big tournament victories and losses. We asked questions about their national bias within the group – that is, for example, how intelligent or charismatic they perceived the typical UK resident to be. We also asked them what we call their financial equality.
We asked them whether they agreed or disagreed that it’s the responsibility of people who are better off to help those who are worse off, and things like that. It recognizes how tolerant people are of financial inequality.
We asked similar questions to residents in our second study: people outside Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, attending Louisiana State University football games. We polled people before and after the matches. Fortunately for us, during our study period there were two wins and two losses.
Not so lucky for LSU
right. What we found is that after the win, LSU fans had greater in-group bias: they noticed more positive characteristics about other people at LSU, such as the average LSU fan being more intelligent and physically stronger than the average American. As we did in England, similar results. In England, after the national team’s victory, fans felt that the average Briton had more positive characteristics than after the loss.
After the win, fans at both venues felt less financially equal. So, both in England and at LSU, fans were more likely to agree with statements that too much money was being allocated to those who were worse off. The opposite happened after the loss – fans after the loss were more supportive of financial equality in society.
So, if we are in a losing group, we might be more protective of the idea of equality because we realize we could end up on the short end of the stick?
exactly. We like to think that our moral positions and policies are rational, but we know from much previous work that our morals are strategically calibrated. The study seems to capture this psychological pull we have toward more in-group bias and affiliation with winners and losers, no matter how arbitrary the context or competition.
Meaning we have no control over the game?
Yes. Also, in almost all cases, the game does not affect our livelihoods, pockets, family life or anything like that.
How long does this effect last? Will Chiefs fans or Niners fans feel a win or a loss in November?
Emotional memories of victory or defeat will certainly linger for many fans, but I hope that these small political changes are fairly temporary, and don’t last more than a few days. But even short-term effects can have real consequences. One of British football’s biggest victories came shortly before the Brexit vote. This vote was decided by the narrowest of margins. It’s a testament that something as fleeting as a sporting event that moves the political needle a little has the potential to have major ramifications downstream.
Have you already looked at the relationship between Brexit and football?
No, and no one else has, as far as I know.
However, if the Super Bowl, for example, was held in late October, would that impact the presidential election in November?
If I had to speculate I would say, yes, the Super Bowl in late October will likely impact the major election. Given how narrow the decision is in many states, temporarily moving the needle by half a percent or less of a voting majority could change the outcome of the election.
Is it healthy to engage in a game?
It’s quite psychologically healthy, if you remember that it’s because we like to get that vicarious thrill. We love joining these shirts that have absolutely nothing to do with the football field and putting our feelings into them. However, after the game, I would encourage fans to leave it on the field, or on your screen.