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Voters Punt On NFL Scandals, WBUR Poll Finds

Ray Rice, shown with his wife Janay in May, is off the Baltimore Ravens’ roster and suspended indefinitely from the NFL after the release of new video from his domestic violence case. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Ray Rice, shown with his wife Janay in May, is off the Baltimore Ravens’ roster and suspended indefinitely from the NFL after the release of new video from his domestic violence case. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Political campaigns are used to football interfering with campaign season; good luck getting a voter to answer either the door or the phone when the Patriots are on. But this year the NFL — or more specifically, the league's handling of alleged domestic violence by players — is impacting the political campaign in another way.

Almost two-thirds of the state's likely voters (64 percent) call themselves football fans, according to the latest WBUR tracking poll, conducted Sept. 24-27. The vast majority (84 percent) of voters have been following the domestic violence story very or somewhat closely. And by a 3-to-1 margin, voters think the NFL has bungled the job. Just 20 percent approve of the NFL’s handling of the issue, compared to 61 percent who disapprove.

With numbers that high, it’s not surprising that the issue made its way into the Massachusetts governor’s race. The major party candidates initially differed on whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should resign over the the league’s handling of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, who was shown on a hotel surveillance video knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator. Republican candidate Charlie Baker equivocated initially but then later called for Goodell’s resignation, as Democrats and women’s groups pounced.

Despite their disapproval of the league’s handling of the issue, only about a third (32 percent) of voters fewer think Goodell should resign, while 47 percent think he should stay on. Encouragingly for Baker, his own voters are more likely to agree with his initial position, while Martha Coakley’s voters are evenly split on Goodell's fate.

The bottom line: Baker has suffered no clear damage from the issue — or from any of the other potential controversies over women’s issues in the past week of so. In fact, the various polls released this week show Baker narrowing the margin by which he trails Coakley among women voters.

A smaller majority of voters (70 percent) say they are paying at least “somewhat close” attention to the concussion issue. Opinions on the NFL’s handing of the issue are not quite as negative, with 37 percent disapproving, and 29 approving. The issue has been around for much longer and is not generating nearly as much sensational media attention. So it's not surprising that opinions on the issue are less inflamed.

So what does it all add up to? A hill of beans, apparently. Eighty-seven percent of voters say the recent controversies have made no difference in the amount of football they will watch; only 9 percent say they will watch less. Those numbers are borne out by the NFL’s ratings for the new season, which are higher than ever.

Patriots fans are more likely to turn off the TV over the team’s performance on the field than anything happening off it.

Steve Koczela is the lead writer for Poll Vault and president of The MassINC Polling Group.

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