Are Americans Ready For Some Football?

Are Americans Ready For Some Football?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Growing up, I always celebrated Super Bowl Sunday with my family. I say celebrated because for us, as for many Americans, it was about so much more than the game. The food, the halftime show, the ads — it all added up to more than a championship, especially for people like me who don’t watch a single minute of football earlier in the season. 

But over the last decade or so, the darker side of the game and the NFL has been brought into focus. The sport’s physical toll — including long-lasting brain injuries — the league’s racist hiring practices and frequent accusations of abuse against its players have all gotten increased attention in recent years. And during this season in particular, with Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa being taken away on a stretcher after sustaining head and neck injuries, and Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin going into cardiac arrest on the field, fans could hardly ignore the sport’s often grim reality. But recent polling suggests that while this somber chapter in public perception of the sport has impacted how fans think about football, it doesn’t seem to have dampened their excitement for Sunday’s game. 

Football has a reputation among Americans as an unsafe sport prone to causing injuries. According to two YouGov polls conducted last October and in January, 4 in 5 American adults said injuries and concussions were each “somewhat” or “very” common in football, the highest share among 11 sports listed. In a January survey from Siena College/St. Bonaventure, 27 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that football is “too violent,” and 37 percent agreed it was “too dangerous of a sport for young people to play.” Even among avid sports fans (defined as individuals who reported watching sports or sports news, checking scores or discussing sports almost daily), 23 percent agreed football was too violent, and 33 percent agreed it was too dangerous for kids. In fact, avid sports fans (41 percent) were more likely than Americans overall (30 percent) to say professional football players were being exploited for our enjoyment.

Particularly traumatic injuries do seem to impact Americans’ views on football — but only temporarily, according to a series of polls from Morning Consult. Last October, following Tagovailoa’s injuries, 66 percent of Americans said football was “very” or “somewhat” unsafe, including a majority of self-described NFL fans (63 percent). But by January, those numbers had reduced, even in the wake of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest: Sixty-one percent of Americans and 58 percent of NFL fans now said football was unsafe. And in October, a majority of Americans (50 percent) and NFL fans (52 percent) said the NFL prioritizes profits over player safety, but in January, less than 50 percent of both groups said so. 

But even the reckoning over the NFL’s dark side and recent high-profile injuries haven’t diminished Americans’ enthusiasm for the Super Bowl. In a poll from Morning Consult, 66 percent of Americans said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to watch the game, and most Americans said they were no less likely to watch it this year compared to past years: Thirty-three percent said they were more likely to watch it, while 45 percent said they were no more or less likely to watch it. In addition, 46 percent said they plan to get together with people who live outside of their home to watch the game, up from 36 percent in 2022 and 25 percent in 2021, according to polling from Seton Hall University.

One reason Super Bowl Sunday remains a big draw, despite the sport’s dangerous reputation, is that it’s more than the big game. When another January survey from Siena College/St. Bonaventure University asked Americans to choose the most interesting part of the Super Bowl from among four options, 20 percent said the commercials and 21 percent said the halftime show. (Forty-nine percent of Americans answered the game and 1 percent said the pregame coverage; the remaining 9 percent said “other” or “none.”) Among the reasons respondents gave for watching the Super Bowl, 82 percent said they wanted to see the new ads and 80 percent said they enjoy the halftime show, compared to 78 percent who said they just love the Super Bowl and never miss it. A vast majority of Americans (90 percent) said they tuned in as a chance to spend time with friends and family, while 75 percent said they watched because it’s an opportunity to eat and drink.

The enthusiasm over everything that goes along with Super Bowl Sunday other than football — the food, the ads, Rihanna’s first public performance in five years — seems to have overshadowed any lingering discomfort with the league’s problems. In fact, in that Siena/St. Bonaventure poll, 29 percent of Americans said they considered it a national holiday. Like it was for me and my family growing up, Super Bowl Sunday remains larger than the game itself.

Other polling bites

  • During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Biden highlighted that inflation, while still high, has been slowing over the past six months, and he laid out his plans to strengthen the economy. This was one topic Americans agreed was important for Biden to touch on: In a poll from YouGov and CBS News conducted last week, 67 percent of Americans said it was important to hear about the economy and inflation in the State of the Union, and 76 percent said lowering inflation should be a high priority for the country. They’re also less optimistic than Biden about the economy. In a January Gallup poll, 67 percent of Americans said they expect inflation to up either a little or a lot over the next six months, and 48 percent expect the stock market to go down a little or a lot.
  • Biden also touted America’s support of Ukraine in the war against Russia, telling the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. that “we’re going to stand with you as long as it takes.” But polling shows that Americans are divided on whether the U.S. should continue supporting Ukraine. Forty-nine percent of Americans said Congress should provide more funding and weapons to Ukraine, while 47 percent said it should not, according to an NBC News poll from mid-January. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to support continued efforts to assist Ukraine. However, in a Fox News poll in the field the next week, 63 percent and 64 percent of registered voters supported the U.S. continuing to send money and weapons, respectively, including a slim majority of Republicans. Similarly, a Golden/TIPP poll found last week that 6 in 10 Americans somewhat or strongly supported continued military support.
  • This week, AMC Entertainment announced it would introduce tiered pricing for movie tickets, where seats in the middle of the theater would be more expensive and the front row would be discounted. But moviegoers might not be keen on the changes. In a YouGov poll the day of AMC’s announcement, 48 percent of Americans said varying the price of tickets by seat was a bad idea, and just 28 percent said it was a good idea. But Americans are generally satisfied with recent developments in movie theaters: When asked whether the moviegoing experience was better or worse than it was 10 years ago, Americans tended to say things had improved. Forty-one percent said it was much or somewhat better, 23 percent said it was much or somewhat worse and 21 percent said it was about the same.
  • Ahead of the Super Bowl this weekend, M&Ms has been promoting its commercial with tongue-in-cheek statements about retiring its anthropomorphized candy mascots, or “spokescandies.” This comes in the wake of Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson accusing the brand and its spokescandies of being too “woke.” But Americans don’t seem fussed about either side of this culture war. When asked in a recent Morning Consult poll whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of the brand, 83 percent of Americans said they had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of M&Ms.

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Biden Approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 42.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.0 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.3 points). At this time last week, 41.9 percent approved and 52.9 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -11 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.5 percent, for a net approval rating of -7.8 points.

Kaleigh Rogers is FiveThirtyEight’s technology and politics reporter.

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