When Morgantown mayor Bill Byrne and Durham mayor Bill Bell made a friendly bet on the outcome of this year's West Virginia-Duke Final Four game, more was at stake than which city would receive super high-speed internet connections from Google.
Also apparently on the line was a spike in approval ratings for both politicians.
A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tested whether or not events irrelevant to government performance affect evaluations of an incumbent politician. Researchers from Loyola Marymount and Stanford found that a marquee victory from a local college football or basketball team can lead to increased approval of an incumbent politician's performance in the minds of fans of that team.
We find that a (college football) win in the 10 days before Election Day causes the incumbent to receive an additional 1.61 percentage points of the vote in Senate, gubernatorial, and presidential elections, with the effect being larger for teams with stronger fan support.
We corroborate these aggregate-level results with a survey that we conducted during the 2009 NCAA men's college basketball tournament, where we find that surprising wins and losses affect presidential approval.
About 3,000 residents of regions with teams in second week of the NCAA tournament were asked after the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight concluded whether they approved or disapproved of President Obama's job performance. The more intense the fan and the more surprising the victory based on the Las Vegas odds, the greater the positive bump for Obama's approval ratings.
It's not hugely shocking that diehard fans would be content with the status quo when their team is winning, but it's one of those phenomenons that most of us wouldn't have considered.
The bottom line? Mayors from Moraga, Cedar Falls, and of course Indianapolis have no excuse if they aren't reelected this year. And congressmen from Kansas should probably be sweating.
(Thanks, College Basketball Nation)