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Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Likely to Tune in to Super Bowl

WASHINGTON – Even though only 3 percent of Americans identify as fans of the Baltimore Ravens (1 percent) or San Francisco 49ers (2 percent), 66 percent of Americans are likely to tune in to Super Bowl XLVII, including 42 percent who say they seldom or never watch sports, a new survey finds.

Nearly 3-in-10 (27 percent) Americans believe that God plays a role in determining which team wins sports events, according to the January Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute during the weekend of the National Football League conference championship games. A majority (53 percent) of Americans also agree that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success, compared to 42 percent who disagree.

“In an era where professional sports are driven by dollars and statistics, significant numbers of Americans see a divine hand at play,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Roughly 3-in-10 Americans believe that God plays a role in determining which team wins, and a majority believe that God rewards faithful athletes.”

Americans in the South are most likely to think God has a stake in the outcome of sports games. More than one-third (36 percent) of Southerners say that God plays a role in who wins, compared to nearly 3-in-10 (28 percent) Americans in the Midwest, 1-in-5 (20 percent) of Americans in the Northeast, and 15 percent of Westerners.

Religious groups also disagree on whether God has a stake in the outcome of sports games, the survey finds. Roughly 4-in-10 minority Christians (40 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (38 percent) say that God plays a role in who wins, compared to fewer than 3-in-10 Catholics (29 percent), fewer than 1-in-5 (19 percent) white mainline Protestants, and approximately 1-in-10 (12 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans.

Half of Americans say they approve of athletes who express their faith publicly by thanking God during or after a sporting event, while 45 percent say it does not matter, and only 4 percent disapprove, the survey finds. White evangelical Protestants (77 percent) and minority Christians (60 percent) are more likely than white mainline Protestants (47 percent) and Catholics (46 percent) to approve of athletes who express their faith publicly at sporting events. Only 27 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans say they approve of athletes who express their faith publicly at sporting events.

On any given Sunday, more than one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans say they are more likely to be in church, compared to nearly 1-in-5 (17 percent) who say they are more likely to be watching football. Nearly 4-in-10 (36 percent) say they’re more likely to be doing neither, and approximately 1-in-5 (21 percent) say they are more likely to be doing both.

“At a time when nearly every issue divides the country, passion about sports bridges political divisions,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “There are no red states and blue states when it comes to sports. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats and more than 7-in-10 Republicans say they are sports fans, and more 7-in-10 of both groups say they are likely to watch the Super Bowl this year.”

Among the findings:

Professional football is, by far, Americans’ most-watched or followed sport: Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans who watch college or professional sports at least a few times a year say professional football is the sport they follow most closely, while around 1-in-10 say the same of college football (12 percent) or professional basketball (11 percent). Less than 1-in-10 report that they follow major league baseball (7 percent) or college basketball (6 percent) most closely.

Most Americans (55 percent) say that football has replaced baseball as America’s national sport, while more than one-third (36 percent) disagree.

Americans say religion is significantly more important to their lives than their fan affiliation, but they are about as likely to watch sports each week as they are to attend religious services.

  • More than 6-in-10 (62 percent) Americans say they consider themselves a fan of a particular sports team. However, among these self-identified sports fans, less than 1-in-5 report that being a fan of their favorite team is the most important thing (1 percent) or a very important thing (14 percent) in their lives. Roughly 4-in-10 (42 percent) say that being a fan of is somewhat important, while more than 4-in-10 (43 percent) say it is not too important or not at all important.
  • By contrast, 58 percent of Americans say that religion is the most or a very important thing in their lives, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) say it is somewhat important, and only 18 percent say it is not too important or not at all important.
  • However, when it comes to watching sports, Americans are just as likely to say they watch sports at least once a week as they are to say they attend church or another place of worship. More than 4-in-10 Americans say they watch college or professional sports more than once a week (22 percent) or once a week (19 percent). Similarly, nearly 4-in-10 (37 percent) Americans say they attend a church or place of worship at least once a week.

More than three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans agree that public high schools should be allowed to sponsor prayer before football games. There are few differences by race, region, gender or age.

The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between January 16, 2013 and January 20, 2013 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,033 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (415 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.

The topline questionnaire can be found online here: http://publicreligion.org/research/january-2013-tracking-poll-2/

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life.

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