The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In 1980, more people watched a presidential debate than the Super Bowl. Not anymore.

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Believe it or not, the Super Bowl is more popular than politics.

Did you die of shock from that fact? Are you currently dead, from shock, because people like the Super Bowl more than, say, the State of the Union?

If so, good. You're our type of reader. Or rather, you were, when you were alive.

Nielsen ratings from the 49th edition of the Super Bowl are in and, in line with a recent trend, viewership was up, to 114.4 million people. The long-term trend looks like this:

The country has gotten more populous since the 1960s, of course, but most of that growth is a function of the fact that people like football. (Did you die of shock from that revelation? No? Good. Stay with us. Don't go into the light.)

How much more popular is the Super Bowl than politics? Well, the trend for State of the Union speeches is headed in the opposite direction from the Super Bowl. It will be a while before the State of the Union viewership is measured in dozens, but we might get there eventually. Say, by the time Chelsea unseats President George P. Bush.

But of course the Super Bowl -- an occasionally interesting sporting event bracketed by occasionally interesting advertising -- is more popular than the speech, the highlight of which is often Speaker John Boehner's Jim Carrey impersonation. How does The Big Game™ match up against the closest simulacrum of a sporting event -- namely, the debates?

It crushes them. At least recently. The red line shows where the Super Bowl came in. The blue bars were the year's debates.

Who could have known, back in high school, that paying attention to policy debates and knowing the names of elected officials would turn out to be less popular than watching sporting events? No one. No one could have known that.