For the first time in more than 30 years, the US has failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, crushing the hopes of a relatively small but growing group of US soccer enthusiasts.
With the U.S. out of the World Cup, which country will fill the vacuum in American soccer fans’ hearts?
Argentina’s Lionel Messi may be a fan favorite, but that doesn’t mean they think he can carry his team to a World Cup title—or that they even want him to. Instead, they’ve placed their hopes (and bets) on a few established powers and a close neighbor to win it all.
How do we know? SurveyMonkey partnered with ESPN to ask 1,375 World Cup followers across the US about their predictions and hopes for the world’s most-watched sports tournament.
Our favorite teams match those we expect win—mostly
Three teams have captured American soccer fans’ hearts in equal measure: Brazil, Germany, and Mexico.
All three tied for first with 12% of the vote, beating the next closest team, England, by 4 percentage points.
As any sports fan knows, who you want to win isn’t always the same as who you think will win. But when we asked American soccer fans, “Which team is most likely to win this year’s World Cup?” Germany and Brazil came out on top again, by a much wider margin.
A full 22% of our respondents said Germany is most likely to win the World Cup, again. They’re closely followed by Brazil with 20% of the vote. After that, things drop off pretty fast. Only 9% expect the number three team, Argentina, to win it all.
They’re even less confident in fan-favorite Mexico, which gets just 4% of the vote.
What explains the relationships between Americans’ favorite teams and the teams they think will win? We’ve got a few theories:
- The Hispanic-American population is carrying Mexico’s popularity. 29% respondents who described themselves as Hispanics sided with Mexico while only 6% of white non-Hispanics and 7% of African Americans said they hoped Mexico will win
- Germany’s recent World Cup victory seems to have converted fans. Especially young fans (18-24 years old), as 19% of them plan to cheer on the Germans
- Brazil has a rich culture and history of soccer. Older fans seem more likely to remember and appreciate it, as 14% of those ages 35-64 choose the South American nation versus 11% of fans ages 18-34
Low enthusiasm for other elite teams
Exciting and unpredictable storylines are always bound to spring up over the course of the tournament, but Americans’ opinions seem biased toward Brazil and Germany. For example:
- Spain has won two of the last four major international soccer competitions. And yet, only 7% of Americans think they’ll continue to be victorious
- Portugal won the 2016 UEFA European Championship, but only 1% believe they’ll deliver this time around
- EA Sports has correctly predicted the previous two World Cup winners. This year they chose France—only 3% of Americans agree
- Belgium, the 3rd highest rated team in the world prior to the World Cup, gets 1% of the votes
The biggest share of Americans choose two of the world’s best teams to win it all and cheer for. But who do they want to lose?
Who are Americans rooting against?
A full 11% of Americans said they didn’t want to see Russia, the host of the 2018 World Cup, win.
Interestingly, the older the respondent, the more likely they were to root against Russia. For example, only 5% of young fans want to see Russia lose the most, a figure that grows to 10% for
middle-age fans (35-44 years old), and eventually peaks at 15% for older fans (65 and older).
We can’t know for certain what explains the backlash against Russia, a team that isn’t even considered to be a strong contender for the title.
Russia isn’t the only team Americans are rooting against. While they’re quite popular with some Americans, the two most favored teams aren’t with others. Roughly 8% of Americans say they want to see Germany lose the most, and 7% would like to see Brazil lose.
Even with the US out of the World Cup, the tournament is sure to attract millions of American viewers. Though Americans’ focus may initially be on Brazil, Germany, and our nextdoor neighbor Mexico, many of the other 29 teams participating have a real shot at winning. As the tournament begins to unfold, Americans’ expectations and hopes are likely to change, quickly.
Methodology: This SurveyMonkey online poll was conducted May 30-June 1 among a national sample of 3,752 adults, of whom 1,375 respondents are World Cup followers who either plan to follow the 2018 competition or have watched in previous years. Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate is plus or minus 2.0 percentage points for the full survey of adults and plus or minus 3.0 percentage points for the sample of World Cup followers. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.