Once again, America will be rooting against New England

February 02, 2018, 5:00 PM GMT+0

But Timberlake is a popular choice amongst viewers

The New England Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls, and they will be playing again on Sunday – this time against the Philadelphia Eagles. But while the team has been successful at winning games, it can’t seem to win the support of viewers or football fans. Each time it has played, viewers tell the Economist/YouGov Poll that they want the other team to win.

The pattern of not liking the Patriots shows up among those who are professional football fans and those who are not, though football fans are the most intense. The margin rooting for the Eagles among those who say the National Football League is one of their top interests is nearly two to one – 59% of those super fans support the Eagles while just 31% want the Patriots to win.

This year, there is a partisan split as well. Democrats favor the Eagles by nearly two to one, while Republicans give the Patriots an edge. Last year, both Republicans and Democrats favored Atlanta.

The Patriots’ difficulties may have begun just before the 2015 Super Bowl XLIX with the “Deflategate” controversy, as accusations of tampering with team footballs began just hours after the AFC Championship Game where the Patriots trounced the Indianapolis Colts. The Economist/YouGov Super Bowl Poll that year was conducted just afterwards, and just about every football fan and 81% of the public overall had heard of Deflategate.

The Patriots and their key personnel may still be suffering the aftereffects: Coach Bill Belichick is as likely to be seen unfavorably as favorably; and nearly a third of the public holds an unfavorable opinion of quarterback Tom Brady.

Fans are more favorable towards both Belichick and Brady today.

The controversy over players “taking a knee” brought politics to public assessments of the NFL, and partisan difference exists in overall perception of the NFL. However, Republicans are only a little less likely than Democrats to say they will watch Sunday’s game.

Of course there are other reasons than the football game itself to watch on Sunday. For nearly half of all potential viewers, the ads and the half time show matter more than the game itself.

Justin Timberlake turns out to be a good choice for that halftime show. It has been 14 years since the “costume malfunction” at Super Bowl XXXVIII. By 46% to 15%, the public approves of choosing Timberlake to headline the show. Those who plan to watch are even more positive. Opinions about Timberlake are much like those when Americans were asked about Lady Gaga headlining last year, and Katy Perry in 2015.

Read more topline and table results here

Image: Getty

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