The NFL’s Most Republican and Democratic Fan Bases

Bloomberg Politics teamed up with Resonate Insights, an analytics firm that studies consumers’ motivations, to examine the partisan leanings of each team's fan base.

The midterm elections may be looming, but it's still football season and it's hard for some of us to tear ourselves away. Which got us thinking: Campaign data analysts break down voters into all sorts of groups. Why not break them down by their favorite NFL team?

So Bloomberg Politics teamed up with Resonate, an analytics firm that studies consumers’ motivations, to examine the partisan leanings of each team's fan base. Then we compared that information with how those fans actually voted. It turns out that there are swing teams, just as there are swing voters, and that most NFL fan bases have a pronounced partisan bias of which they may not be aware. Politically speaking, the fans of at least two teams are downright schizophrenic.

To measure the partisanship of a team's fan base, Resonate looked at the stated party affiliation and vote propensity of people in congressional districts that lie within a team's "designated market area"—essentially its local television market. It makes perfect sense that there are blue teams (New York, Seattle, San Francisco) and red teams (Dallas, New Orleans, Jacksonville):


But, surprisingly, the stereotypical NFL fan is a bellowing, beer-drinking white male in a jersey and face paint—i.e., a Republican—yet the number of "Democratic" teams exceeds the number of "Republican" teams by almost 2-to-1. If you were to split the league into two divisions according to the party affiliation of a team's fans, here is what the league would look like:



Of course, simply asking NFL fans what party they're affiliated with doesn't yield an accurate picture of their political behavior. That's because there's a gap between their political self-image and how they actually vote. By and large, most NFL fans pull the lever for Republicans more often than they say they do—including most fans of "Democratic" teams. In fact, the fan bases of 23 teams show a propensity to vote more Republican than they claim, versus only six teams' fans who vote more Democratic:


Even so, fans of some teams are more likely than those of others to switch their votes between the two parties. Think of them as "swing" teams. No surprise that the biggest swing team—the Cincinnati Bengals—happens to be located in the pivotal swing state of Ohio. Here are the others:


But Tennessee Titans fans may be the oddest ones of all. Ask them what party they belong to, and Titans fans will collectively claim to be Democrats, by a margin of about 5 points. And yet, when those same fans show up to vote on Election Day, they end up supporting Republicans by just about the same margin—5 points.

It's not clear that there's any significance at all to this data, although you have to imagine that Karl Rove or some other enterprising political consultant has pondered how to make use of it. But if Republicans win the Senate by a larger-than-expected margin, perhaps they'll have football fans to thank, along with the fact that Game Day doesn't fall on Election Day.