SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts during his postgame press conference after the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers with a score of 24 to 10 to win Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Poll finds Cam Newton’s popularity varies by race, political affiliation

A pre-Super Bowl poll by Public Policy Polling quantifies America’s complicated relationship with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

All season, as Newton tore through the NFC on the way to the NFL MVP award and an appearance in the Super Bowl, we heard about how “polarizing” and “controversial” the exuberant Newton was, with some people criticizing him for his touchdown celebrations and others quickly jumping to his defense.

As it turns out, Newton is pretty popular. Of those polled, 57% held a favorable opinion of Newton, compared to only 16 percent unfavorable (his Super Bowl opponent, Peyton Manning, had a more dramatic 77/11 split). But when you break down Newton’s popularity by race and political affiliation, you find some divides that confirm certain assumptions about how the quarterback is widely perceived.

There is a pretty big difference among Republicans when it comes to the two Quarterbacks though. Manning comes in at 79/12 with them, while Newton’s rating is only 48/24. Newton’s favorability is 81/1 with nonwhite football fans, but only 46/23 with whites. Newton’s prominence this year has caused a lot of discussion about touchdown dances and overall football fans say they approve of them by a 57/27 margin. There are some divides in those numbers though. While fans under 45 say that they like the dances by a 67/21 margin, seniors say they disapprove of them 32/43. Democrats (70/17) are also a lot more fine with them than Republicans (48/31) are.

So while Republicans’ opinion of Manning is roughly in line with that of the overall populace, they hold less favorable opinions of Newton than the population at large. Nonwhite Americans have an almost unanimously favorable opinion of Newton, while whites are most split. Unsurprisingly, it turns out most of the consternation about Newton’s dancing comes from old white people.

Further poll results reaffirm these trends. Newton is the favorite quarterback of 16% of Democrats but only 6% of Republicans. Newton is the favorite quarterback of 16% of people who self-identify as “very liberal,” behind only Tom Brady, but the favorite quarterback of only 4% people who claim to be “very conservative.” 

Newton was the favorite quarterback of a whopping 44% of African-American respondents but only 5% of white respondents. Somewhat surprisingly, Newton was not dramatically more popular among younger respondents.

So what does all this mean? Pretty much exactly what we had assumed. Newton’s flamboyant style and what some have called “unapologetic blackness” alienates white conservatives and energizes nonwhite liberals. Sometimes, it takes a poll to tell you what you already know.

Alex Putterman

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a recent Northwestern University graduate who, in addition to covering Wildcats sports, has worked for MLB.com, SI.com and the Hartford Courant and also contributed to Baseball Prospectus, AOL.com and more. His interests include baseball, rap music, the criminal justice system and some other things that don't seem to go together. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

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