While most political pundits follow polls, they might want to start following college football.
I first learned about the efficient market hypothesis when studying for the Chartered Financial Analyst exam 20 years ago. The efficient market hypothesis states that markets are rational, and information is rapidly absorbed and reflected in the market.
This was an intellectually compelling hypothesis, based on the belief that humans rapidly process information and act rationally.
This same hypothesis is often applied to the political arena -- voters receive, assimilate and process information regarding candidates and vote for one based on his or her record and policy platform.
But watch out, sports fans -- what one thinks and what happens are not always the same.
A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides "evidence that voting decisions are influenced by irrelevant events that have nothing to do with the competence or effectiveness of the incumbent government."
In "Affective Voting: Irrelevant Events Affect Voters' Evaluations of Government Performance," lead author Andrew J. Healy of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles shows that voters' decisions can be affected by all sorts of events.
The first irrelevant event studied was local college football games. One might believe that since the government is not involved in the outcome of these games, their outcomes should not affect elections.
But they did.
The study looked at college football games played within 10 days of presidential, gubernatorial and Senate elections from 1964 to 2006. Though there was no impact on turnout, a win translated into an additional 1.6 percentage points for the incumbent or for the candidate from the incumbent's party. The authors hypothesized that the increase in votes was driven by an increase in voters' sense of satisfaction with the status quo driven by the team's win.
When only "powerhouse teams" were included (those that had won a championship since 1964 or those ranked in the top 20 based on attendance from 1998 to 2007), the effect was greater -- wins by championship teams and high-attendance teams translated into an increase of 2.3 percentage points and 2.42 percentage points, respectively, for the incumbent, or for the incumbent party's candidate.