Forget the speeches and sound bites, the gaffes and ground games, the pundits and polls, the sound and fury emanating from cable news like white-hot plasma from a thousand suns. After an interminable slog of a campaign season, the presidential election could be decided by … the outcomes of a few college football games.
Fact: With the American electorate equally divided between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the fate of the free world is expected to come down to a couple of dozen counties in a handful of swing states — places such as Franklin County, Ohio, home to Ohio State University.
Also fact: According to a study conducted by a trio of economists, home-team college football victories within a 10-day period before Election Day increase the countywide vote share for incumbent politicians by 1.6 percentage points to 3.35 percentage points.
The upshot? Ohio State’s last two football victories — over Penn State on Oct. 27 and Illinois on Saturday — could help Mr. Obama win.
“Our estimates would say that an Ohio State victory would benefit Obama,” said study co-author Neil Malhotra, an associate professor of political economy at Stanford University. “[New York City Mayor] John Lindsay completely attached himself to the 1969 Miracle Mets. People think that helped him. People think [French President] Jacques Chirac was helped by the French team winning the 1998 World Cup.”
As voters, we like to think of ourselves as, well, thoughtful. Careful. Essentially reasonable. Patriotic citizens making important ballot-box decisions based on issues, candidates and political arguments.
If a growing body of behavioral research is right, however, we may be flattering ourselves.
“[We have] an overly optimistic view of how sophisticated voters are,” said Michael Miller, a political scientist at Australian National University who has studied the effects of sports performance on elections. “People don’t decide their votes 100 percent based on meticulous analyses of performance and who should get credit. They often vote with their guts.
“Personal happiness and experience, often having nothing to do with politics, can affect how people vote. Even more interesting, this can happen without voters even being aware of it.”
Electoral college gameday?
Herein, a short list of utterly non-political things social scientists believe can unwittingly influence electoral choices:
• The physical weight and facial appearance of candidates;
• The type of building where votes are cast;
• The physical location of a candidate’s name on ballots;
• Droughts and flooding;