Last night’s college football championship sparked a nerdy late-night question: If a handful of states can dominate a particular sport, is the same true for presidential politics?
Yes, it turns out. Some states are good at college football. Others excel at presidential politics. Rarely is a state successful at both.
First, let’s look at the pigskin divide. The Alabama Crimson Tide’s win over the Georgia Bulldogs Monday highlighted the dominance of football teams in the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference, all of whom are south of Richmond and east of Texas.
To chronicle this, we looked back at the last 20 years of NCAA championships, including the quickly-forgotten Bowl Championship Series — which ran from 1998 to 2013 — and the more recent College Football Playoffs.
We counted every team that won a spot either in a championship game or in the playoffs since 1998. Two states surpassed all others: Florida and Alabama. Each represented a remarkable one-fifth of all the college playoff teams at year end. Add South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee, and those six southeastern states represented over half of all spots in recent playoff games.
In football, in short, the Southeastern Conference punches far above its weight. Not so on presidential tickets.
Looking at the home state of every major party candidate for president, we found a different juggernaut: New York. Over 20 percent of the major party conventions have named a New Yorker as their candidate for president.
Before we go further, an important note about our method. We counted each nominee, each year. Thus the Empire State benefits from four nominations for Franklin D. Roosevelt, two for Theodore Roosevelt and three for Grover Cleveland. (This was the same approach we took with football; a single team, such as Alabama, was counted each time they made it to the playoffs or championship.)
In all, New York has been the home state for a stunning 28 U.S. presidential nominations. The next closest? Ohio with ten, followed by Virginia, Massachusetts and Illinois, each with nine. Those five states alone have been home to more than half of all the presidential nominations in U.S. history.
So, how do the powerhouse football states do when it comes to presidential politics? Not so good. The six southeastern states which dominate college football together put just 13 out of 123 nominations on presidential tickets.
What’s happening here? Is this a reflection of the continued reach of the Civil War, with the South strong in muscle and passion but weak politically? Or is it an issue of population size, with older states — with larger cities — having a larger talent pool from which to produce strong presidential candidates?
It’s unclear. But we know this: One state and one state alone — Ohio — achieved the holy grail of both political and football dominance.The Buckeye State has been home to some eight percent of presidential nominees, and it saw one of its teams take the field in about 10 percent of college football playoff games. Well done, Ohio. Pressure’s on, Michigan.