By Eric V | on 09/21/16

#ImWithFootball—Even the GOP aren’t watching the presidential debates

When football overlaps with the presidential debates, what do Americans prefer watching?

Sure, it’s not every year that the Falcons face off against the Saints (oh wait, yes it is), but the grand exchange of ideas and positions between the two potential leaders of the free world only comes about every four years! Wouldn’t Americans rather see that?

The answer is generally “no,” although it depends a lot on how much of a football fan you are and, to some extent, how you align politically.

How do we know? We were curious about America’s football-watching habits, so we checked in with more than 1,100 people across the country to find out more about who they are and how they enjoy watching the game.

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It’s not looking great for the debates

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are going to have to step up their game—at least if they want to get people to tune in to the next debates instead of the next pro football game.

Overall, just 43% of people who responded to SurveyMonkey’s football survey said they’ll watch the debates instead of football if the two events overlap. The other 57% aren’t just the diehard fans either.

While 76% of people who describe themselves as “big fans” of the sport said they’d be watching the game instead of the debates, 55% of self described “casual fans” said so, too.

People who planned on watching multiple games per week, a closely related group (but not identical), were almost as high—75% of them said they’d be watching the game during the next debate.

On the other hand, 72% of people who said they weren’t fans of football said they’d be watching the games and 66% of those who said they’d rarely watch the games said the same.

There’s a political element to it

Look, maybe it’s not exactly a shocker that people who are bigger fans of football are more likely to choose to watch the game (the relatively extreme numbers are surprising, though). But would it be surprising to learn that Democrats are more likely to watch the debates than Republicans?

It’s true!

When we asked people who identified as Republicans what they’d be watching, 64% said they’d be watching football. When we asked Democrats the same question, 55% said they’d be watching the debates.

That’s a pretty big difference, but what will people who describe themselves as independents be watching? Even though they won’t have a horse in the game, so to speak, they’re still more likely to watch the debates than Republicans—but not as likely as Democrats.

42% of Independents said they will be watching the debates. Compare that to the people who said they don’t fit neatly into a Republican, Democrat, or Independent bucket. Just 34% of people from that nondenominational group said they’d watch Donald v. Hillary over whoever happened to be playing that night.

So what’s it all mean?

There are plenty of mutually exclusive groups that don’t show any difference on this question (men and women, for example, had virtually identical responses).

But there’s some fairly significant differences in the groups we’ve highlighted above. What accounts for those differences?

Are Democrats generally more interested in politics than other groups?

Possibly, but given the upswell of populist support for a certain candidate on the other side of the aisle, that doesn’t seem like a very clean explanation. In fact, it’s a lot more likely that the football-watching audience as a whole simply leans a little more right (or a little more toward Independents), which could skew our responses.

We can see evidence that this might be true when we compare political groups to fandom. Democrats (44% of them) were mostly likely to say they’re not at all fans of pro football, while Republicans were least likely to say so with 25%.

Whatever the case, it’s clear there are some pretty serious fans out there—maybe almost as serious as some fantasy football fans.

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