Whatever happens during the Vancouver Canucks’ roller-coaster 2011 playoff run, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will likely be paying attention. Harper has never been shy about his love of hockey, talking about the game on the campaign trail to the point where even Sarah Palin might think he’s laying it on a bit thick.
A 2010 study from a Stanford economics professor suggests that Harper’s fate in the May 2 federal election may be more tied to the Vancouver Canucks than he realizes.
Neil Malhotra published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found that election results can be affected by the results of local sports teams. Malhotra analyzed U.S. federal and state elections between 1964 and 2008, along with results from 62 college football teams, and concluded that some of the feelings generated by a big game can rub off on politicians who are in office.
“What we found is that wins and losses in the two weeks before election day significantly affects the fortunes of incumbent presidents, governors, and senators in the United States,” Malhotra, now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a phone interview with the Straight. “We estimate that in places where the team is very big and important, it can shift the incumbent’s vote share by up to two percentage points.”
A two-percent swing thanks to a big Canucks win or loss may not sound like much, but it could prove to be the difference in hotly contested ridings throughout B.C.
Malhotra noted that the Canucks’ success or failure may not necessarily have a huge impact on Harper’s campaign. He says that sitting politicians got the biggest boost from college football teams that were based in small towns rather than a large city like Vancouver, where competing sources of entertainment could dampen the effect of a big win or loss.
Also, the results of Canucks games could be cancelled out by the Montreal Canadiens. For instance, the euphoria felt in B.C. after a Canucks win could be offset by the bad vibes in Quebec after a Habs loss.
Malhotra said his study is not about sports but how external factors that have nothing to do with politics can influence people’s decision-making at the polls.
“This kind of shows that a lot of voting behaviour is potentially irrational and not really based on analyzing data but has to do with how people are feeling about their lives in a given moment.”