Does NFL team fandom transcend political ideology or is it an expression of political ideology?
The 2017 NFL season kicked off last weekend as a microcosm of the polarizing political climate in this country. Some fans aren’t tuning into games because of continued racial inequality protests during the National Anthem. Conversely, other fans are boycotting this season because of apparent collusion against Colin Kaepernick for starting the protests.
Add in players being criticized for showing up (or not showing up) to the White House to be honored by the President and the continuous protests of the pejorative Washington team name and you have a 2017 NFL season that is heavily intertwined with politics.
While many would prefer their beloved NFL to be an escape from important issues, the diverse ideological makeup of fans makes the NFL prime real estate for exposure to opposing views.
Football fandom pops filter bubbles and builds connections with people who may have little else in common, which makes it a valuable ideological bridge.
In 2008, we conducted a study, which showed that football was the most popular sport across the ideological spectrum. But what about fandom for individual NFL teams? We wanted to see if fan bases of specific teams were also ideologically transcendent, so we turned to Facebook.
Facebook has grouped users into political designations based on their site activity. So, if you “like” particular issues or candidates or if you post about political issues, Facebook has determined your political leanings for advertising purposes. Similarly, if you “like” or post about a particular NFL team, Facebook identifies you as a fan of that team for advertisers. This allows us to jerry-rig Facebook ads to identify the political leanings of each NFL team’s fan base.
American Facebook users are grouped into five political categories: Very Conservative, Conservative, Moderate, Liberal and Very Liberal, so the analysis below identifies the percentages of how many fans of each team fall into these ideological categories.
- Neither “Conservative” nor “Very Conservative” were the highest percentage for any team’s fan base. “Liberal” or “Very Liberal” were the highest group for 17 teams and “Moderate” was the highest group for 15 teams.
- The Baltimore Ravens fan base has the most “Very Liberal” fans (39%). The Ravens were reportedly the leading contender to sign Colin Kaepernick over the summer.
- More New England Patriots fans are either “Very Liberal” or “Liberal” (40%) than “Very Conservative” or “Conservative” (35%), but the Patriots still have the highest percentage of “Very Conservative” fans (18%).
- There is a bell curve distribution of fan ideologies for eight NFL fan bases (Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minnesota and Tennessee). For these teams, “Moderate” is the highest group, followed by either “Liberal” or “Conservative” in the middle and “Very Conservative” and “Very Liberal” as the lowest percentages.
Here are the top five fan bases in each political designation:
Teams with the highest percentage of VERY CONSERVATIVE fans
- New England Patriots – 18%
- Tennessee Titans – 16%
- Denver Broncos – 14%
- Dallas Cowboys – 14%
- Kansas City Chiefs – 14%
Teams with the highest percentage of CONSERVATIVE fans
- Kansas City Chiefs – 22%
- Tennessee Titans – 21%
- Jacksonville Jaguars – 21%
- Denver Broncos – 20%
- Green Bay Packers – 20%
Teams with the highest percentage of MODERATE fans
- Los Angeles Chargers – 33%
- Green Bay Packers – 29%
- Buffalo Bills – 29%
- Minnesota Vikings – 28%
- Kansas City Chiefs – 27%
Teams with the highest percentage of LIBERAL fans
- Oakland Raiders – 38%
- San Francisco 49ers – 35%
- Los Angeles Chargers – 33%
- New York Giants – 32%
- Miami Dolphins – 31%
Teams with the highest percentage of VERY LIBERAL fans
- Baltimore Ravens – 39%
- New Orleans Saints – 39%
- Atlanta Falcons – 36%
- Washington – 35%
- Houston Texans – 31%
When “Very Conservative and Conservative” and “Very Liberal and Liberal” are combined, it paints a clearer picture of the political leanings of each fan base.
Teams with the highest percentage of VERY CONSERVATIVE or CONSERVATIVE fans
- Tennessee Titans – 37%
- Kansas City Chiefs – 35%
- New England Patriots – 35%
- Denver Broncos – 34%
- Jacksonville Jaguars – 34%
Teams with the highest percentage of VERY LIBERAL or LIBERAL fans
- Baltimore Ravens – 64%
- San Francisco 49ers – 63%
- Los Angeles Rams – 62%
- Oakland Raiders – 62%
- New Orleans Saints – 62%
Scroll down to see the political ideology of each NFL Fan Base. Does your political ideology match our results? Let us know at @LearCenter.