When the Seattle Seahawks face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, more than a hundred million Americans will tune in to root for one side or the other, or maybe just to watch the commercials. Prognosticators have any number of ways of handicapping the matchup: Maybe defense wins championships, maybe it’s all about the run game or special teams, or maybe one superstar can take over a game.
But from a political perspective, history argues the Seahawks have the advantage. That’s because their fan base looks much more like the American electorate than the Patriots’ fan base.
Consumer data from hundreds of thousands of interviews conducted by the marketing firm Scarborough Research, analyzed by Republican strategists Will Feltus and Melissa Sharp, finds Seahawks fans skew just barely to the Republican side of the political spectrum. Patriots fans — based around liberal New England — are much more likely to be Democratic voters.
Feltus and Sharp, who analyzed the data for a private client considering advertising during the Super Bowl, say Seattle’s fan base looks like a purple state, while New England’s would be solidly blue.
In recent history, the more closely a team’s fan base hews to the middle of the road, the more likely they are to win the Lombardi Trophy. The Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos, whose fan base is even more Republican than the Patriots are Democratic, in last year’s Super Bowl. The year before, the Baltimore Ravens, with their slightly Democratic-leaning fan base, defeated the San Francisco 49ers, with its heavily Democratic fan base.
The New York Giants, the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers all beat teams with more extreme fan bases: The Giants beat the Patriots in 2012 and 2008, the Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 and the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. The lone exception came in 2011, when the Packers, whose fans are among the most conservative in the NFL, bested the more centrist Steelers.
Maybe that’s more good news for the Seahawks: They beat the Packers in a spectacular come-from-behind victory to win the NFC Championship game two weeks ago. Had the Packers held on to win, the Patriots would have entered the Super Bowl as the relative centrists.
In an era of increasing and intractable partisanship, the middle may be a difficult place for a politician to reside. But in the NFL, the more balanced a Super Bowl team’s fan base, the better they’ve fared in February.
Full disclosure: The author is a hopelessly biased Seahawks fan who thinks the Patriots don’t have a chance, regardless of the lens through which Sunday’s matchup is viewed.