In January 2022, as excitement built for that year’s Super Bowl, social media users shared what appeared to be a fascinating insight into the intersection of religious faith and sports fandom in the United States.
On Jan. 20, the popular Twitter account @UberFacts wrote: “25% of Americans believe God decides the winner of the Super Bowl.”
That’s an intriguing claim and, as it turns, one with a significant basis in fact. A series of surveys conducted in recent years have shown that around one quarter of U.S. respondents believe God has a role in determining the winner of sporting contests — though not, specifically, the Super Bowl. We are issuing a rating of “Mostly True.”
The 25% figure appears to stem from surveys taken by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) — a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on the role of religion in American public life and politics.
In 2017, for example, PRRI published a survey that found “One-quarter (25%) of Americans believe God plays a role in determining the outcome of sporting events.” So that supernatural view of competitive sports wasn’t actually specific to the Super Bowl, though the annual football showcase provided a useful hook for the institute’s news release, and subsequent news reports.
Drilling deeper into the figures from the 2017 survey, we find that while one quarter of respondents felt God played a part in deciding the numbers in the sports section, 73 percent did not, including 53 percent — a majority — who strongly disagreed with that proposition:
Interestingly, the portion of Americans who believed in a divine hand in sports scores vacillated somewhat over the years: 27 percent in 2013; down to 22 percent in 2014; then back up to 26 and 25 percent in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
The survey contained some other intriguing questions (and answers), including:
- “God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success” (49 percent agreed while 47 percent disagreed)
- “Have you ever felt that your team has been cursed?” (Just one in five answered “Yes” to this superstitious proposition).
A spokesperson for PRRI confirmed for Snopes that the “God decides results” proposal hadn’t been included in surveys since 2017. This means the figure of 25 percent had the disadvantage of now being five years old, and perhaps not fully reflective of the current state of beliefs, in early 2022.
Gallo, D. J. “Divine Intervention: Will God Decide Super Bowl 51?” The Guardian, 3 Feb. 2017. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/feb/03/god-super-bowl-51-patriots-falcons.“One Quarter of Americans Believe God Will Intervene in the Super Bowl, Survey Says.” Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/02/05/one-quarter-of-americans-believe-god-will-intervene-in-the-super-bowl-survey-says/. Accessed 21 Jan. 2022.“One-Quarter Say God Will Determine the Super Bowl’s Winner—but Nearly Half Say God Rewards Devout Athletes.” PRRI, https://www.prri.org/press-release/poll-super-bowl-women-sports-god-athletes-marijuana/. Accessed 21 Jan. 2022.