The Predictive Power of U.S. Sports

Can football results predict the outcome of the U.S. elections?

November 1, 2000

Can football results predict the outcome of the U.S. elections?

For months now, the Democrats have pinned their shaky hopes on Al Gore’s ability to eke out a victory at the polls next Tuesday on an amazing set of circumstances. Yes, Vice President Gore may have been beaten by Governor Bush in their presidential debates. And yes, the polls continue to show a lead for the man from Texas.

But whenever Democrats felt really desperate, they took solace in the safe knowledge that a bunch of academics had sure-fire proof that none of that really mattered. In the end, according to an amazingly consistent number of models predicting the outcome of U.S. presidential elections, all that matters is how well the economy is doing.

Dozens of academic economists and political scientists of all ideological persuasions essentially predict that, when an economy is steaming along as strongly as it currently is in the United States, there is no way that the party holding the keys to the White House can lose.

These models are based on a broad range of input factors which vary slightly in their composition and calculation.

But they have been back-tested for several decades — and always yield the correct outcome, or so the academicians say, and today’s Democrats love to believe.

Enter the peculiar world of American football. The rest of the world may consider this particular sport an apt image of U.S. power and fighting spirits, but it may soon outshine all the predictive powers of some of the United States’ finest academics.

For in the rule book of American football, Al Gore is bound to lose the upcoming election. And, believe it or not, this is all due to the Tennessee Titans. Considering that the Vice President originally hails from Tennessee, one should think that he would take delight in the fact that his home team beat the Washington Redskins by a score of 27 to 21. Not this time, though.

As the researchers of ABC’s Monday Night Football pointed out during the game, the Washington Redskins have been a reliable indicator of who will win the presidential election. In fact, it has been a perfect indicator since Franklin Roosevelt won reelection in 1940.

To gauge the election, all you need to do is to look at the Redskins’ last home game right before the election. Whenever they win that game, the incumbent party’s candidate wins the race for the White House. And, you guessed it, whenever the Redskins lose, the opposition party picks up the reins of power.

There you have it. The 2000 presidential elections in the United States are about far more than the individual political fortunes of Al Gore or George W. Bush. In the final analysis, the real race is for who has the upper hand in the United States — the world of academic researchers, with their refined models, or the rough-and-tumble world of professional sports. At least you now know why the Democrats love the universities — and why the Republicans prefer sports.