Super Bowl politics: There's even gridlock on the gridiron

Posted at 11:20 AM, Jan 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-30 17:27:59-05

Last year The Washington Postdeclared the Super Bowl “America’s biggest bipartisan day.” It’s a day of dips, chicken wings and beer. LOTS of beer. That’s something we can all agree on, right? But look past the boozy revelry and you’ll see the bitter truth – America’s biggest football game has a lot of similarities to politics.

It is a day to temporarily pledge allegiance to a team you probably ignore the rest of the year. It is funded by gross displays of capitalism. A bunch of rich white dudes run the organization. There is a lot of alcohol involved. Does this not sound like our government to you?

Just like about everything else, the Super Bowl is entrenched in partisan politics. If you’re already a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you probably can’t be swayed. None of the painstaking research we have done here at DecodeDC will change your team allegiance, and that’s OK.

But for the rest of you – especially those of you who are independent and undecided football fans -- we’ve taken a glimpse beyond the playbook and into the political underpinnings of Sunday’s game, and what we’ve found might help you choose a team.


Consumer data analyzed by Republican strategists Will Feltus and Melissa Sharp shows that Seahawks supporters are a Republican-tinted purple base, while Patriots fans are much more likely to be Democrats. The purple is a good look for Seattle. As The Washington Post noted, teams with politically neutral fans tend to perform better in the Super Bowl than those who lean heavily to either side of the political spectrum.

This could be a clue for Congress, here. In sports, as in legislating, you can get things accomplished when you dissolve gridlocks. Although in today’s climate the Lombardi Trophy is a much more realistic goal than a consensus on health care.

Campaign donations

So, how are NFL stars spending those enormous paychecks? Well, they aren't big political donors, that’s for sure. But, according to OpenSecrets campaign donations, when current and former players on both teams did donate in the last 25 years, they tended to give more to Republican candidates and groups.

When they were members of the Seahawks, players spent a total of $11,252, financing Republican campaigns, while only $8,000 was spent across the aisle. Despite having Patriot right in the name, New England’s players spent way less on political pursuits, forking up $7,100 to the GOP and $3,750 to Dems. Although the Pats spent less overall, the players favored Republican candidates at a much higher margin than Seattle.

The coaches tended to stay out of the political realm, but ownership is a different story. Billionaire team owners Paul Allen and Robert Kraft have been generous to campaigns across the board, but both tilt to the left. Seattle’s Allen has donated $76,400 to Republicans and $114,350 to Democrats in the last 25 years. But while Allen’s 60-40 donation split favors Democrats, it pales in comparison to Patriots owner and sliced-cheese mogul, Kraft. Eighty-nine percent of his total donations, that's $300,746, has gone to blue candidates and PACs.


Although Harry Reid used his pull as the most powerful Democrat in the U.S. to express his distaste for unregulated football air, Republicans haven’t come to a consensus on Deflate-gate. Public Policy Polling reported that Republicans are split on whether New England cheated in the AFC Championship game, where Democrats overwhelmingly believe that the Pats used the deflated balls to their advantage.

The GOP might not be able to come to a consensus on Deflate-gate, but that didn’t stop Sarah Palin from making an actually funny joke about deflated balls.

Political positions

Team affiliation aside, it seems that positions could dictate which party players are more likely to donate to. Going back to the OpenSecrets data, 79 percent of the money donated from the offensive lines from both teams went to Republican candidates or the National Republican Congressional Committee. In an almost exact inverse, 78 percent of money from defensive players went to Democratic objectives.

So, with Patriots’ explosive O-line and the Seahawks much-touted defense, could that mean that Democrats would be more comfortable with Seattle?

So who should I root for?

Seahawks: Their fans skew slightly right; their players donate more to Republicans; their owner donates to both parties, but with a slight advantage to Democrats; and their strong defense indicates, based on the data, that some of their MVPs could lean Democratic.

Patriots: Their fans are pretty liberal; their players donate much more to Republicans; their owner heaps money on the Democrats; and their O-line could translate to Republican leanings.


After careful analysis of the data, you should probably just pick one. When it comes to politics, they’re just as confused as the rest of us.

[Also by Abby Johnston: A coup by Republican women]

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