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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Sports and Society: Saving democracy with the New England Patriots


I’m not going to say that the New England Patriots will swing the U.S. Senate. But I’m not not going to say that. 

Ideally, millions of Americans will enthusiastically rush to the polls on Tuesday, armed with sophisticated and well-researched opinions, thoughtfully considering each candidate before ultimately coming to logically sound conclusions to receive their “I Voted” stickers to brandish proudly. Except they don’t do that, and the 2022 Midterm Elections — dubbed by many in the media to be the first line of defense against an ever-growing attack on American democracy — may be won or lost because of the outcome of a football game. 

In 2010, a few political economists set out to prove an existentially terrifying reality: that the outcomes of football games — entirely irrelevant to the issues voters should be weighing — have a causal effect on voter behavior. They found, to my immense existential terror, that the incumbent candidate gains on average 1.5% more votes if a local team had recently won a game. If that win came on the eve of an election, that number could be as high as 3%. 

I would like to think that Tuesday’s election is more important to me than whether the Patriots won or lost Sunday’s regular season game to the Indianapolis Colts. In the grand scheme of things, the outcome of the game does not matter, and Tuesday’s elections may have a cascading effect on hundreds of millions of Americans’ civil and reproductive rights — things worth protecting far more than the Patriots’ hopes for a Wild Card spot. 

But I am an emotional creature and a Patriots fan — as are most of the one million registered voters in the state of New Hampshire — and am apparently incapable of separating my feelings about the Patriots season from those about the state of the world. Thus, when faced with a critical Senate race in the Granite State, I am left to wonder if Bill Belichick’s brilliant defensive game plan and Rhamondre Stevenson’s inspired running, enabling a 26–3 victory over the Colts and saving the Patriots’ season, could also have saved democracy.

The Senate race in New Hampshire is, according to some recent polls, within the 1.5% margin. Democrat Maggie Hassan, the incumbent, has spent her campaign reassuring voters of her independence and bipartisan impulse, fighting off a serious challenge from Don Bolduc, an election-denying, pandemic-dismissing buffoon with no place in the U.S. Senate. Could the Patriots’ win have been the momentum swing Hassan needed? Have New Hampshire’s residents decided that, since the Patriots are over .500, there is not much need for a change in political leadership?

My sarcasm should not be mistaken for a lack of understanding. I concede that the Patriots’ blowout of the Colts will probably do very little to swing the New Hampshire election, but it will certainly have an effect, however minute. 

I do, however, feel as though American politics wants nothing more than for me to look away. General wisdom seems to carry that our leaders are incompetent, our systems broken and our society unjust. I’m sure the voters in New Hampshire often want to look elsewhere too, and our eyes fell this weekend on Mac Jones’ solid — not spectacular or even necessarily encouraging — performance in the Patriots’ win. I don’t think his play has been perfect, or even all that good at spots, but I’m willing to give him another shot. However ludicrous, Hassan must channel the energy of Patriots nation, banking on New Hampshire’s voters giving her the same chance.