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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Baracketology" - Is Obama Biased Towards Teams from Swing States?

Today, we will look at a slightly esoteric topic - Baracketology. Some of you might know President Obama made his NCAA Tournament picks on ESPN this morning. You can view them here. However, his picks may show a bias towards teams in swing states. Is this a coincidence? You can decide.

Barack Obama makes his picks
on SportsCenter.
Two of Obama's Final Four picks - the Missouri Tigers and UNC Tar Heels - come from states that were each decided by less than 0.5% in 2008. Additionally, both schools have fan bases that are highly concentrated in those states. Could Obama be appealing to those voters? It seems silly that voters would choose who to vote for based on Tournament predictions, but we've seen some pretty strange reasons. My 7th grade social studies teacher Mr. Bowdren once referred to the voters who "go into the voting booth, say 'I had eggs for breakfast this morning' and decide to vote Republican". So voters can be stupid like that. Additionally, sports fans are passionate about their teams and may be offended if the President picks against them. It also may indicate a lack of confidence in the state.

Perhaps this is overthinking it, but look at Obama's third Final Four team - Ohio State. Ohio is one of the key Swing States in this election. He also has the Buckeyes beating Florida State in the Sweet 16. The Seminoles come from another big swing state.

Only Kentucky makes Obama's Final Four from a non-swing state. Obama could have picked Duke out of that region, but UNC was already covering North Carolina. Other than that, the only high seed from a swing state is Indiana (#4). If Obama really wanted to get serious, he could have picked Duke, but this makes it slightly less obvious.

Is Obama just picking the Rams
because Virginia is a swing state?
However, the Wildcats' regional is notable for two upsets. First, Obama's biggest first round upset is #12 Virginia Commonwealth over #5 Wichita State. The Republicans are expected to easily win Kansas, but Virginia will be a swing state. Additionally, most of the Rams' fans live in Virginia. Could Obama be trying to win over Virginia residents? The President also picked Xavier (of Cincinnati, Ohio) over Notre Dame. Notre Dame may play their home games in a swing state, but their fan base is more national. Also, the Irish fans are overwhelmingly Catholic, which is not a group Obama plans on doing well with. Needless to say, he is more focused on winning the votes of Ohioans than Catholics. In this regional, Indiana and Duke represent swing states in the Sweet 16.

In the East Regional, three of Obama's four Sweet 16 teams are from swing states - the aforementioned Buckeyes and Seminoles, and the University of Wisconsin. Again, most of the Badgers fans live in Wisconsin.

Is North Carolina's "swing"
status a motivation for Obama
to advance the Wolfpack
to the Sweet 16? Perhaps.
In the Midwest, we see another interesting trend. The only underseed (9 or lower) Obama has in the Sweet 16 is #11 North Carolina State. Obviously, the Wolfpack play their home games in North Carolina, and once again, most of their fans live in North Carolina. Could this be a subtle ploy? Obama also has Michigan in the Sweet 16, along with UNC as well as Kansas. Obama does have Purdue (Indiana) knocking off St. Mary's (California) in a first round upset, once again, one where a team from a swing state beats a team from a non-swing state. And again, the swing state team has most of their fans in their home state.

In the West regional, there simply aren't many swing state teams. But both Elite Eight teams, Michigan State and Missouri, come from swing states. And it is the Tigers, from the far closer swing state, who advance to the Final Four. The only First Round Upset Obama has here is Virginia over Florida. These teams are both from swing states, surprisingly.

Overall, in terms of first round upsets (by seeding), Obama picked six of them. Four of them involve a team from a swing state beating either a team from a non-swing state or a team that is unlikely to have many fans who are consdering voting Democrat (Notre Dame). One (Virginia over Florida) involves two swing-state teams, and one (West Virginia over Gonzaga) involves two teams not from swing states.

This is the last "Baracketology" before the election. If Obama is trying to appeal to swing-state voters, this is certainly an interesting way to do it. But looking at his predictions, it seems entirely possible that this is what he is trying to do. I'm not saying he is, I'm just saying it's possible.

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