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How the Super Bowl Looks a Lot Like the Presidential Election

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“Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.” ~ Eugene McCarthy

Two uniquely American events are about to descend upon us: the Super Bowl and the presidential election. The American public is held enthralled with the spectacle of both, dedicating a seemingly unhealthy amount of watercooler, dinner table, and bar stool conversations to who is going to “win the big game.”

In fact, both of these two highly publicized exhibitions offer a number of parallels that highlight the ethically dubious values they share—and we, by default, celebrate.

Two Teams That the Majority of Americans Don’t Care About

The playing field starts with many teams, but—in the end—only two make it to the bitter end. And unless you are a diehard Broncos or Panthers fan, you most likely don’t care about the outcome of Sunday’s game.

However, watching the Super Bowl is an American tradition. Average viewership of the championship is roughly 117 million people worldwide. Even if your team isn’t in the game, you are most likely watching.

Even if your team isn’t in the game, you are most likely watching.

The same goes for voting. A strong plurality of Americans—a record-high 42 percent according to Gallup—don’t identify with either of the two major parties, and consider themselves independent. However, come Election Day, American independents feel obligated to vote for one of two teams, because they don’t have much else to choose from.

Through the cunning use of wedge issues, American voters “settle” on their version of the “lesser evil.” It’s a form of tribalism that happens so naturally that most people don’t even realize it.

Whether Broncos versus Panthers or Democrats versus Republicans, you can either choose a side or be a meaningless spectator in the nose bleed section. How many Cleveland Browns fans do you think voted for Nader?

The Public Foots the Bill for Private Parties

Corporatism — the land of the publicly funded and privately profitable — rule the day for both politics and football.

Love or hate football, if you live in a city that hosts an NFL team, you probably paid for the team’s stadium through your tax dollars.

Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver cost taxpayers $300 million over a ten-year period between 2002 and 2012.

Meanwhile in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bank of America Stadium received $40 million from the city and $10 million from the county. Furthermore, the city council unanimously approved an $87.5 million upgrade to the stadium, including the renovation of luxury suites.

Levi Stadium, where the Super Bowl is taking place, cost local residents about $114 million in public funds.

Prior to the general election, taxpayers foot the bill for the two political parties to determine their nominees. Estimates suggest that over $400 million in public funds were leveraged by the Democrats and Republicans to fund and administer their primaries and caucuses.

Furthermore, most of the primaries and caucuses alienate unaffiliated and independent voters by not allowing them to participate in the process unless they register with one party or the other.

Nothing says democratic republic like not allowing people to participate but still making them pay the bill.

Tons of Money for Ineffective Commercials

Even if you are not a fan of either team, many tune in to the Super Bowl just for the commercials. Airtime during the sporting event is costly—as high as $5 million for 30 seconds—so businesses typically put their best efforts for something memorable. Often times, most folks watch the Super Bowl just to get a giggle over these commercials.

On the political side of this metaphor, the advertisements for elections are not as popular. This is mostly due to the pejorative nature of the practice: In 2012, the ratio of negative to positive advertisements was 7:1.

Regardless of the content, campaigns and SuperPACs shell out a good chunk of change to connect with voters through the boob tube. Projections estimate that 2016 campaigns will spend $4.4 billion on television ads alone.

Considering the huge investment made to influence buyers/voters, the question remains: Is there a reasonable ROI with these commercials? The answer to that is up for debate.

According to political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, political ads have a marginal and short-lived impact on the mindset of voters. As for companies that shell out the big bucks for airtime during the big game, only one out of five commercials inspire consumers to buy a product, leading four out of five professional marketers to declare the practice a bust.

Can the Super Bowl Predict the Presidential Race?

The bond between the Super Bowl and the presidential election is considered to be more than metaphorical. Observers of both events have found a link between the conference of the winning Super Bowl team and the political party of the President-Elect.

When an AFC team won, a Republican was elected eight months later. And the NFC offers the inverse for the Democrats. This spurious correlation has worked since 1980, except for once—the contested 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. (Perhaps the correlation doesn’t apply when hanging chads are involved.)

If you are “Feeling the Bern” or “Ready for Hillary,” you better hope Cam Newton can overcome that stellar Broncos defense. Otherwise, you can expect supporters of Cruz, Rubio, and the GOP to be cheering for Peyton Manning.


Regardless of who you cheer for or vote for (even if not enthusiastically), the one certainty that we can all expect from the Super Bowl and Election Day is the fact that they will end—only for us to relive them again for their next iteration.

So find a seat, grab a beverage, and prepare to watch these big money, competitive exhibitions unfold on your screens. Armchair quarterbacks and armchair pundits alike are welcome.

Photo Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / shutterstock.com

Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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20 comments
Zachary Frank
Zachary Frank

Can we use leverage to replace water pipes? Thanks.

Anatole Evans
Anatole Evans

Seriously when was the last time you saw smart foreign policy??? Not until we fix the rigged economy will we get smart policy abroad!!! Yes the military industrial media complex are able to manipulate congress in the same way as big oil, big Pharma, and Wall Street! Expect more status quo with HRC and more stupid wars of aggression! Look at the polling trajectory of where Sanders started and how far HRC has fallen! Amazing and totally missing from the discussion! Hillary Clinton is asking us to believe the corrupting influence of money does not change congressional bills and votes! She is asking us to believe the one percent are spending billions in lobbying for no reason! If you are buying this I got some things I would like to sell you!!! Yes the media blackout is in full effect! Check out Trump coverage Vs. Sanders!!! Guns and abortion! Keeping the people distracted and stuck on stupid! Divide and conquer! Only rich lives matter? Stand up to Hill first!! Trump is next! About as fair and balanced as the Corporate media! Feel the Bern! The two party system has been playing the same game for forty years! The only ones benefiting and getting what they want is the one percent! Just a trending news story brought to you by repetition creates reality inc. Also brought to you by just ignore Bernie Sanders inc. Not all that different from how Bill Cosby handled these questions! Bill Clinton is just a much better liar! Check out the list of allegations and the number of women making them! I believe victims and I don't trust the Clintons! Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby used power, intimidation, and a persona larger than life to silence a lot of women! Just wrong! Rape was part of the allegations and money was paid out! How many women need to come forward before we believe them? HRC is enabler in chief!

Natalie Ficklin
Natalie Ficklin

Just google NFL Stadiums taxpayer money and read the truth from many different sources.

PaulWhitfield
PaulWhitfield

This article is a stretch. The author is clearly reaching in his attempt to connect the Superbowl with the Presidential election.

The outcome of the SB predicting the election? Really? Provide full data, not data ftom 1980 that only partially fits your theory.

Many football fans care as much about the game as they do their favorite team. I am a FOOTBALL fan who has a favorite team I love above all others. I am NOT a political fan who views the presidential election as a game with commercials to "giggle" at and a half time show that might have a wardrobe malfunction.

The taxpayer investment into sports teams is exactly that: an investment. The tax revenue that comes from that investment, as well as the jobs created for the local community, far exceed the investment. Unlike our federal government, city governments are not in the habit of giving away millions of dollars with no prospect of return. In contrast to this, the taxpayer money used to fund the presidential elections have no monetary return to the taxpayer; that money is gone.

Robert Degoey Jr.
Robert Degoey Jr.

No one is a sport. The other needs to be revamped to include all the people.

Centeno Angeles
Centeno Angeles

Partisan politics is just what happens when you apply the team sports mentality to government. People don't care how horrible their candidates or party platforms are so long as "their team" wins.

Brian Duke
Brian Duke

AFC vs NFC Democrat vs Republican same difference

Robert Degoey Jr.
Robert Degoey Jr.

Every product, food, hotel room, and item sold around at and the stadium is taxed. A city gets at 80000 thousand tourists who would not ever come there to spend money there. Same thing goes for the Stadium. Watch what happens in LA, the Stadium is privately built. But people are going to get mad when Stan Kronke says "no you cannot use my stadium for concerts unless I get a cut". If you don't want a Stadium or a team to play just do what Oakland has done. After all they are a model city to follow. /end sarcasm Lmao.

Jay Stooksberry
Jay Stooksberry

Another similarity that I forgot: the rules of the game are arbitrarily defined and changed every year to benefit the league/parties.

Natalie Ficklin
Natalie Ficklin

Sports programs like the NFL should not be funded by taxpayers and should pay taxes themselves!

Lee Phillippi
Lee Phillippi

They're both an embarrassment. Neither should receive public funds.

Albert P
Albert P

I think this is an excellent comparison. Spot on. 

Jeff Marston
Jeff Marston

Great piece!  The best part was about the commercials.  How true.