Dear Urban Legends:
We were watching last season's Mad Men when they mentioned something about the Washington Redskins predicting presidential elections. I had never heard of that. My husband said that supposedly, when the Redskins lose the home game closest to the election, the incumbent party loses the election.
Have you heard anything about this?
I have, and am amused to report that for 64 years running, spanning 17 presidential races between 1936 and 2000, the outcome of the last Redskins home game before Election Day did, in fact, correctly predict who won the presidency. When the Redskins won, the incumbent party stayed in office. When the Redskins lost, so did the candidate of the incumbent party. They call it the "Redskins Rule."
The Redskins were still in Boston the first time the phenomenon occurred in November 1936. They beat the Chicago Cardinals 13 to 10, and incumbent Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt went on to best Republican Alf Landon in the presidential election two days later. (Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler has a rundown of all the Redskins' pre-election home games from 1940 on.)
But let's be clear. All we're talking about is a chance correlation; to assume anything deeper or more mysterious is at work is mere superstition.
As if to prove the point, the "Redskins Rule" failed to accurately predict the winner of the 2004 election, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry to serve a second term even though the Redskins lost to the Green Bay Packers in a hard-fought game just a few days before.
Like sports, politics is largely a numbers game, however, and statistics aficionados point out that even with the 2004 rout factored in, the Redskins Rule still boasted a record of 94.4 percent accuracy.
As if to prove that point, the Redskins lost their home game to the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 3, 2008, correctly predicting that Barack Obama would win the election.
Make that a 94.8 percent record of accuracy.
Sources and further reading:
The Redskins Once Again Control the Presidential Election
ESPN Magazine, November 2008
Will The Washington Redskins Predict the Election?
Salon.com, 31 October 2008
Election Predictions You Can Believe In
Political Humor, November 2008
Last updated: 11/04/08