Very Superstitious: Who Believes in the Madden Curse?
|September 6, 2012||Posted by ReubenFB under Geo-Analysis|
Curses are essential to sports. How else can you explain the improbable comebacks, inexplicable cold streaks, and impossible stretch runs that appear season after season without resorting to boring statistics? The Wikipedia page dedicated to this topic counts 30 major curses in total, covering every major sport as well as hurling , snooker , and curling . And ever since 2004, when the Red Sox won the World Series and ended the Curse of the Bambino , no hex has gotten more play in the media than the Madden Curse.
For those not familiar, the Madden Curse refers to the idea that the football player chosen (or since 2011, voted) to be on the cover of the Madden video game will almost always suffer a setback in performance/debilitating injury the next season (for an excellent write-up of how the “Madden Curse” can largely be explained by regression to the mean and luck, .) This idea is prevalent enough that in 2007, fans actually started a petition to prevent LaDanian Tomlinson from being on the cover.
Looking at the ESPN poll above, it’s pretty easy to see where a few states are coming from:
- The 2012 cover is Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, so Michigan defiantly votes against the existence of the curse 65 -35.
- The 2011 cover was Peyton Hillis of the Cleveland Browns, who followed his surprising 2010-2011 season by totally sucking last year. Ohio votes in favor of the existence of the curse 65-35.
- The 2010 cover was Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, and he kicked ass anyways. Only 55% of Louisiana votes in favor of the curse (vs. 58% nationwide), and that’s a state that loves its curses .
- The 2009 cover was shared by Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals) and Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers), both of whom suffered setbacks the next season. Arizona falls on the national average, but Pennsylvania votes in favor of the curse 63-37.
- The 2008 cover was Brett Farve when he was on the Jets, and everyone would prefer to forget that that ever happened.
Surprisingly, there have been national surveys on superstitious/paranormal beliefs, but they don’t have enough respondents to provide state-by-state breakdowns. We need a proxy variable, so what sort of people in the U.S. are generally less likely to be superstitious?
As it turns out, according to data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life , Protestants might fit the bill. Protestants, who continue to make up a slim majority of U.S. adults, are less likely than Catholics and Unaffiliated respondents to believe in reincarnation, spiritual energy, astrology, ghosts, and fortunetellers, a slightly counterintuitive result that’s supported by other polling . While curses weren’t explicitly mentioned, but I’m going to trust my gut and say that Protestants aren’t so .
Gallup does track religious identification by state , so we know that Protestants tend to dominate in the South (Alabama is the highest with 76.3% Protestant) and have smaller numbers in New England (Massachusetts is 26.9% Protestant) and the Mormon Belt (Utah is only 12.3% Protestant). Looking back at our map, here’s each state’s belief in the Madden Curse compared to its Protestantism:
Note: outside of the biased states already discussed at the top, Alaska and Hawaii were removed from this analysis because Gallup does not phone poll them, and Wyoming was removed because it had less than 50 respondents to the ESPN poll .
This is a significant effect: the more Protestant a state is, the less likely it is to believe in the Madden Curse. For the statistically-minded of you, this regression had an R-sq of 13.5%, good for p = 0.02. West Virginia is the biggest outlier like always, showing strong belief in the Curse despite having the nation’s second-largest proportion of Protestants. Somehow that feels right though.
The Detroit Lions are just recovering from a football curse of their very own , so let’s hope that Madden Curse doesn’t hit Calvin Johnson hard this season. He’s a , non-Catholic dude though, so if he’s anything like his unlikely-but-wouldn’t-it-be-awesome-if-it-were-true-namesake , he probably thinks it’s all a bunch of bullshit.