Football Reaches Historic Popularity Levels in Gallup Poll

by Joseph Carroll

Forty-three percent say football is their favorite sport to watch

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The Indianapolis Colts will face the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4 in Miami. As has been true for over 30 years, Americans continue to name football as their favorite sport. But never before has a higher percentage named football, or any other sport, as its favorite since Gallup first asked this question in 1937. While football ranks as the top sport for Americans in every major demographic group, there are some differences in preference for various sports among men and women, younger and older adults, and those living in different regions of the country.

Americans' Favorite Sport

The Dec. 11-14, 2006, poll asked Americans to identify, without prompting, their "favorite sport to watch." Forty-three percent mention football, more than three times the percentage mentioning any other sport. Basketball, at 12%, and baseball, at 11%, are next. Four percent of Americans name auto racing and 3% each say golf and figure skating. Twelve percent of Americans say they do not have a favorite sport.

Each of the three times Gallup asked the question between 1937 and 1960, baseball ranked as Americans' favorite sport. By 1972, football overtook baseball, and the former has remained at the top ever since. Meanwhile, basketball has gained in popularity, and since 2000 has either been tied with or ranked ahead of baseball in every poll.

The percentage of Americans who say football is their favorite sport to watch (43%) is higher now than at any other time. The previous high point was 38% in 1981 and 1992. In recent years, before the increase this year, roughly one in three Americans have said football is their favorite sport.

Half of Men Say Football Is Favorite Sport

While football is easily the top sport among both men and women, men (50%) are much more likely than women (36%) to say football is their favorite. Women are slightly more likely than men to say basketball (14% vs. 9%) is their favorite, and women are also more likely to say they do not have a favorite sport to watch (16% vs. 7%).

Favorite Sport to Watch, by Gender
Dec. 11-14, 2006

Men

Women

%

%

Football

50

36

Basketball

9

14

Baseball

11

11

Auto racing

5

3

Golf

3

2

Ice/Figure skating

1

4

Soccer

3

2

Ice hockey

2

3

Boxing

2

1

Tennis

*

2

Gymnastics

*

1

 

 

Other

3

2

None

7

16

* Less than 0.5%

Younger Americans More Interested in Football Than Are Older Americans

Younger Americans are much more likely than older Americans to say football is their favorite sport, while older Americans mention baseball more often than younger Americans do.

Favorite Sport to Watch, by Age
Dec. 11-14, 2006

18 to 34

35 to 49

50+

%

%

%

Football

49

43

39

Basketball

15

9

12

Baseball

7

10

14

Auto racing

2

7

3

Golf

--

3

5

Ice/Figure skating

2

3

3

Soccer

5

3

*

Ice hockey

1

4

2

Boxing

2

1

2

Tennis

*

1

1

Gymnastics

--

1

1

 

 

 

Other

5

2

2

None

11

10

13

* Less than 0.5%

Forty-nine percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 say football is their favorite sport to watch. This compares with 43% of adults aged 35 to 49 and 39% of adults aged 50 and older. Baseball is more popular with older Americans, with 14% of those aged 50 and older, 10% of 35- to 49-year-olds, and 7% of 18- to 34-year-olds choosing it as their favorite sport. Americans aged 18 to 34 are twice as likely to mention basketball as they are to mention baseball as the top sport.

Basketball Most Popular in the Western United States

Regardless of where Americans live, football is the top sport, but there are regional variations in the favorite sport:

  • Football is most popular in the South and least popular in the West. Forty-eight percent of Southerners say football is their favorite sport to watch, compared with 42% of Midwesterners, 40% of Easterners, and 38% of Westerners.

  • Americans living in the West are more likely to prefer basketball than are those living elsewhere. Nineteen percent of Westerners say basketball is their favorite sport, while 11% of Southerners, 10% of Midwesterners, and 8% of Easterners feel this way.

  • Eighteen percent of those residing in the East say baseball is their favorite sport, a higher percentage than for those living elsewhere.

Favorite Sport to Watch, by Region
Dec. 11-14, 2006

East

Midwest

South

West

%

%

%

%

Football

40

42

48

38

Basketball

8

10

11

19

Baseball

18

11

8

10

Auto racing

5

4

4

3

Golf

3

3

3

3

Ice/Figure skating

2

1

4

2

Soccer

2

4

1

3

Ice hockey

4

2

1

2

Boxing

*

1

3

2

Tennis

1

--

1

2

Gymnastics

2

*

--

*

 

 

 

 

Other

3

2

3

2

None

12

15

10

10

* Less than 0.5%

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 11-14, 2006. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

22. What is your favorite sport to watch?

 

'06
Dec

'05
Dec

'04
Dec

'03
Dec

'02
Dec

'01
Mar

'00
Mar

'98
Nov

'97
Apr^

'95
Apr

'94
Sep

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Football

43

34

37

37

37

28

33

36

30

32

37

Basketball

12

12

13

14

13

16

16

12

17

15

13

Baseball

11

12

10

10

12

12

13

16

14

16

16

Auto racing

4

5

5

5

5

6

5

3

7

2

2

Golf

3

2

2

3

2

4

5

3

5

4

3

Ice/Figure skating

3

3

4

6

4

4

4

2

2

2

3

Soccer

2

3

2

2

2

2

2

2

2

1

2

Ice hockey

2

4

3

5

3

3

5

3

3

3

1

Boxing

2

1

1

2

1

2

2

1

2

1

1

Tennis

1

3

2

1

2

2

1

2

2

2

3

Gymnastics

1

*

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

0

0

Rodeo

*

1

1

*

1

1

*

*

*

*

*

Volleyball

*

1

--

*

--

1

--

--

--

--

--

Motocross

*

*

1

*

--

1

--

--

--

--

--

Wrestling

*

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

1

*

Bowling

*

*

*

*

1

*

*

1

*

1

*

Fishing

*

1

*

*

1

*

*

1

*

1

*

Swimming

*

*

*

*

1

*

*

--

--

--

--

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OTHER

3

4

4

4

2

4

3

6

7

7

5

NONE

12

13

12

9

10

12

8

9

6

10

12

No opinion

*

*

1

*

1

1

1

1

1

2

2

* Less than 0.5%

^ WORDING: What is your favorite sport to follow?

Long-Term Trend

 


Foot-
ball


Base-
ball


Basket-
ball

Auto
racing

Ice
hockey

Ice/
Figure
skating

%

%

%

%

%

%

2006 Dec 11-14

43

11

12

4

2

3

2005 Dec 5-8

34

12

12

5

4

3

2004 Dec 5-8

37

10

13

5

3

4

2003 Dec 11-14

37

10

14

5

5

6

2002 Dec 5-8

37

12

13

5

3

4

2001 Mar 26-28

28

12

16

6

3

4

2000 Mar 30-Apr 2

33

13

15

5

5

4

1998 Nov 20-22

36

16

12

3

3

2

1997 Apr 18-20 ^

30

14

17

7

3

2

1995 Apr 17-19

32

16

15

2

3

2

1994 Sep 16-20

37

16

13

2

1

3

1994 Aug 8-9

35

21

11

2

3

3

1992 Sept

38

16

12

2

4

2

1990 Feb

35

16

15

1

3

2

1981 Jan

38

16

9

1

2

2

1972 Oct

32

24

9

2

4

1

1960 Dec

21

34

9

*

3

1

1948 Apr 9-14

17

39

10

1

3

*

1937 Mar 24-29

23

34

8

1

2

1

* Less than 0.5%

^ WORDING: What is your favorite sport to follow?

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