(CNN)If you’re like me, you’ve filled out an NCAA college basketball tournament bracket. Many Americans do, and it seems that taking part in the fun is one of the least controversial things you can do.
There’s a good reason for that. Even as most things in our society have become hyperpolarized, college basketball stands out as an exception. You can see this in a 2017 Washington Post poll. They asked respondents whether or not they were a fan of a lot of different sports, including college basketball. A very similar percentage of Democrats said they were a college basketball fan (41%) as did Republicans (39%). More recent polling back this up as well: Democrats and Republicans are about as likely to be college basketball fans. When we dig into Google trends, we see something similar. Read MoreBack in late 2017, others and I looked at how different sports were searched in different media markets. With the exception of the NFL, no other sport tested had a lower correlation between the 2016 presidential election results and searches in a market. Just 2% of the variation in college basketball searches was explained by the presidential results.For comparison, 30% of the variation in NASCAR fandom was explained by the 2016 presidential election results. NASCAR fans were much more likely to be in regions where Republican Donald Trump did well. The 2016 presidential election results also had predictive value for other sports. They had eight times the explanatory value of college football fandom than it did college basketball. Like with NASCAR, Trump did better in college football friendly markets. The opposite was true of the NBA. Trump did significantly worse in markets where the NBA was more popular, which matches the poll of the NBA being a big Democratic sport. While the 2017 study did not look at the WNBA, polling over the last few years indicates that WNBA fans were more Democratic than fans of any other professional sport. Historically, the NFL was one of the least polarized sports leagues. Trump, however, lashed out against the players for kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustices. A 2017 Gallup poll found that Democrats were 11 points more likely to be NFL fans than Republicans. A 2020 Marist College poll put the gap at a similar 8 points. Baseball was the other of the other big three sports in America that had a fairly low search correlation between Trump strength and Google searches. The polling backs this up: baseball fans are as likely to be Democrats as they are Republicans. The crossover between college basketball fans and baseball fans, however, is interestingly low. Just 36% of fans of either sport say they are fans of both of them in the Washington Post poll. This gets at another fact of life that can sometimes get lost: not all divides in this country are political, even if they’re often related. They can be racial (i.e. college basketball fans are more likely to be Black than fans of sports in general) or regional. Baseball’s strongest region is the Northeast, which happens to be one of college basketball’s weakest regions. Just 25% of Northeasterners said they were college basketball fans in the Washington Post poll. This makes sense because with a few exceptions (e.g. The University of Connecticut), college basketball championships elude schools in the Northeast. On the other hand, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have won a lot of World Series. This year doesn’t look like it will be an exception for college basketball’s ultimate winner. None of the teams thought to have any real shot of winning the tournament are in the Northeast. I guess we can always hope for some March Madness.