For a brief moment on Tuesday night, an Alabama political race became slightly more popular than Alabama football.
We’re still awaiting the returns — it’s too close to call (according to preliminary Google Trends data). But it looks like the Alabama Senate pulled off the upset of the century by edging out Alabama football in terms of popularity. Roy Moore himself did surpass Alabama football in Google searches, though probably not for reasons you want as a candidate.
I think the football-versus-politics competition is an apt comparison. When the Associated Press called the Alabama Senate race for Doug Jones, I saw my Twitter feed explode in spontaneous and synchronized real-time reactions that resembled what happens after a pivotal touchdown, interception or other big play in a game that everyone’s watching.
The football parallel was not lost on Deadspin:
The narrow victory by Doug Jones was the political equivalent of a sports underdog story for the ages. It’s the language and narrative we’re familiar with.
“The upset delivered an unimagined victory for Democrats and shaved Republicans’ unstable Senate majority to a single seat,” the New York Times wrote.
In a year when football became intensely politicized, it only makes sense that politics have become more like football.
Of course, we’re used to our national politics being like a big game. We stay up late and watch the returns when there’s a presidential election or midterm election of consequences. It then dominates the conversation for awhile, just like a Super Bowl or local team in a bowl game.
Now we’re doing the same for… a special election in Alabama? I get the important national implications this may have and the larger contemporary society issues at play with Roy Moore’s scandals.
But can we pause for a moment and recognize how profoundly weird it is that the nation stopped to collectively and intensely watch an Alabama senate race two weeks before Christmas??
There was a lot of celebration when it was announced that Jones won Alabama, myself included. But I think this means more than just a political upset.
I think this is confirmation that we’ve become a political football nation.