German study links football scores to voting - will it affect the Brexit vote? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.06.2016
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German study links football scores to voting - will it affect the Brexit vote?

Europe is breathless these days with soccer euphoria and political chaos. Combining the two, a new study shows a link between scores and voting patterns. Could a bad Euro 2016 be the last straw in the Brexit debate?

Seeing your favorite soccer club score the winning goal might do more than make you spring for an extra few pints at the pub or name your firstborn after the player that sealed your team's victory. According to a new study from the German universities of Duisburg/Essen and Konstanz, that winning goal might also change how you vote.

The study, which analyzed data from Germany's 2013 national elections, showed that voting districts whose top-tier club was on a winning streak not only tended to vote for the incumbent, but they also saw a higher voter turnout.

With the EU referendum on June 23, this begs the question: Could the Euro 2016 affect whether the United Kingdom remains in the European Union?

UEFA EURO 2016 England - Russland

England's team has good chances of battling through to at least the quarter finals this year

'Leave' campaign gaining strength

What has become known as the "Brexit" vote - that is to say, a British exit from the EU - became a concrete threat to the EU last year. Prime Minister David Cameron tied his reelection with a standing promise to hold a referendum on the UK's membership in the EU in answer to an outcry from roughly half of Conservative MPs and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) over what they saw as an overbearing EU eroding the UK's sovereignty through regulations.

The move to appease the "Leave" campaign now translates into a divided nation. Of roughly 1,250 UK adults polled by Ipsos Mori last week, 53 percent of those likely to vote favored leaving the EU, while 47 percent want to remain. Previous polls had put the undecided vote around 12 to 15 percent.

Gains made by the Leave camp could be attributed to increased media coverage and last ditch efforts to woo the undecided voters. That includes high-profile campaigning by celebrities like comedian Eddie Izzard (pictured below) aimed at the most likely demographic to support staying in the EU, but the least likely to vote: young voters.

"The referendum has really started to take hold in the public's mind," University of Leeds political scientist Simon Lightfoot told DW. "The issues around migration have started to resonate much more with people and that's reflected in the polls, although I think there is still a suspicion that the polls are overestimating the leave vote at the moment."

One UK, many soccer teams

But a closer look at the surveys points to another factor not to be forgotten: UK voters are, of course, not just English voters, nor would England's performance at Euro 2016 be perceived as a victory for Britain and the Commonwealth.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be voting on June 23, not to mention UK residents of Gibraltar and Irish, Cypriot and Maltese residents in the UK and UK citizens living abroad.

Großbritannien Brexit Stimmzettel

Proponents of the "Stay" campaign have been urging uncertain voters to mark June 23 on the calendar - especially the estimated 5.5 million voters living abroad

In Wales and Northern Ireland - both of which qualified for the tournament - the number of undecided voters is higher than the UK average. A reported 41 percent of Welsh surveyed favored a Brexit, the exact same number as reportedly favored staying in the EU. Eighteen percent were unsure. Among Northern Irish, roughly one-third didn't know, while 20 percent favored a Brexit and 44 percent wanted to stay.

Scotland, which did not qualify for the Euro tournament, has a strong "Stay" campaign, with 53-percent support. However, that number reflects a drop from 66 percent in April.

Who's the incumbent in this scenario?

Studies, like the one released by researchers in Germany this week, have shown that the euphoria from soccer victories can propel an elated fan to the nearest polling station, where they're likely to vote for the incumbent - in other words, the candidate who represents the status quo.

The question is what the national pride stoked by an English victory would mean in terms of the UK's relationship with the EU.

Großbritannien Brexit

Both the "Leave" and "Remain" campaigns have been increasing visability in recent weeks

"There's a general sense that if England does well, that might make a sense of national celebration raise the mood, and that may lead to a few more people voting to remain. We would feel more positively inclined toward Europe," Lightfoot says. "Just the word Euro 2016, euro, EU are all connected."

But, there is another argument: "If we win our group that could feed into a sense of 'well, actually we can go it alone, look at how good we are, look at how well we've played, and that may actually give some support to the leave campaign."

So which side represents the "incumbent" in this scenario? Lightfoot says he thinks it would be the Stay campaign, which most closely represents the status quo.

The political scientist also notes the importance of not overplaying these correlations. After all, a range of factors will contribute to voters' decision, not least of which will be the web of interests at stake among the UK's non-English voters.

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