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For the Win! The Effect of Professional Sports Records on Mayoral Elections


  • Data needed for replication and extension of this study will be made available at 〈〉. Thanks to Christine Percheski, Dan Myers, Teppei Yamamoto, and participants at Princeton's Political Methodology Colloquium for helpful comments, as well as to Fernando Ferreira and Joseph Gyourko for generously sharing their data.

Direct correspondence to Michael K. Miller, School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University, 1206A Haydon-Allen, ANU Campus, Acton ACT 0200, Australia 〈〉.



Voters are more likely to reelect incumbents when political outcomes are positive. Although most scholars assume this is because voters explicitly credit politicians for good outcomes, this article investigates whether some voters simply opt for the status quo when they feel happy.


To distinguish these two voting models, I propose professional sports records as a proxy for electorate happiness unrelated to political performance. I test the impact of sports performance on incumbent mayoral elections in 39 American cities from 1948 to 2009.


Winning sports records boost incumbents’ vote totals and likelihoods of reelection, exceeding in magnitude the effect of variation in unemployment. In contrast, sports records following elections display no such relationship.


Retrospective voting is partly driven by feelings of happiness unrelated to political appraisal. However, I argue that the implications for democratic accountability are not as dire as many authors claim.