July 3, 2014 | By Dina Smeltz

Ann Coulter, the World Cup and What the Polls Show

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter probably didn't watch the US play Belgium on Tuesday afternoon. But that didn't stop her from tweeting “Doing the job Americans just won’t do: Immigrants fill up roster of ‘U.S.’ soccer team.” This tweet extended her rant from last week in which she blamed Ted Kennedy's 1965 immigration law for a possible increase in soccer viewership in the US [she also railed against the sport because it is collectivist, foreign, and boring]. In her words:  “I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.”

While I don't agree with Coulter's position on soccer (or anything else, for that matter), there is indeed greater interest in soccer among Hispanic Americans than the rest of the public. A Pew survey conducted June 26-29 found that a majority of  Hispanic Americans (55%) are following the World Cup very or somewhat closely, compared to about a third of Blacks (32%) or Whites (32%). The Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg poll results from June 27-30 found a similar pattern (47% of Hispanics are watching the World Cup very or somewhat closely, compared to 33% among Black Americans and 26% among White Americans). And an Ipsos poll from April 7-11 found that one-third of Hispanic Americans said they would be following the tournament or some teams closely, double the percentage for respondents overall.

There are also age and some ideological differences among World Cup fans. While Coulter didn't attack Millennials directly (though there was a swipe at HBO's Girls), the Pew survey reports that one in four (24%) of those under 30 say they are closely following the World Cup, compared to only 9% of those over 65.  Coulter did single out "liberal soccer moms" for embracing the sport (because there are co-ed teams), but self-identified political moderates (34%) are just as likely as liberals (35%) to follow the World Cup, according to The Wall Street Journal poll; conservatives were least likely (27%). The survey also found disproportionate interest among the wealthy and educated.  

These analyses overlook another important factor in soccer's popularity.  That is whether an individual has played soccer in their youth.  A June 1 ABC News/Washington Post survey found that two in ten (21%) Americans said they played soccer on a regular basis growing up.  Of those who have played soccer in their youth, a majority described themselves as a soccer fan (59%, compared to 28% overall) and said they planned to watch the World Cup (56%, compared to 28% overall).

Overall, the ABC News/WP poll found that only 4 percent of Americans expect that soccer will become less popular in the next ten years.  Instead, a large majority say soccer's popularity will either stay the same (47%) or increase (46%) in the next decade.  In addition, nearly half the public described the sport as "interesting" and "exciting" (46%), though slightly more found it "on the dull side" or "a big bore"(49%).

Many of the articles summarizing these polls have focused on the majority of Americans who say they are not following the World Cup. But what I think is interesting is the finding above.  That nearly half of Americans say that soccer is interesting or exciting points to a lot of potential soccer fans out there. Especially since these results were collected before the US team advanced into the knockout rounds and before Tim Howard's record-breaking saves.

Jeff Macke of Yahoo  Finance reports that the US economy may have experienced $682 million worth of lost labor productivity due to the number of Americans interrupting their work to watch the US play against Belgium. So perhaps a big boost in soccer following wouldn't be the best thing for our economy.  But it sure would be fun to see Ann Coulter's response if we could report data that showed a dramatic increase in Americans with a "soccer fetish" in the near future.  

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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