Ratings data suggests some people are lying about watching less football because of the protests

  • In a new poll, 29 percent of Americans say they're cutting down on watching NFL games this year.
  • But Nielsen television ratings data don't support that.
  • Hardcore football fans are more likely to disagree with the president on the protest issue than casual game watchers.

Millions of Americans say they've given up on football, but they're probably lying about it.

That's according to a CNBC analysis of polling and ratings data that was released this week.

A new poll out Thursday from Seton Hall University suggested that 29 percent of Americans said they were watching less football this year. Of that group, 47 percent said it was because of players protesting the national anthem. Doing the math, that works out to 14 percent of Americans cutting down on football because of the protests.

On first glance, that might make sense. President Trump made headlines last weekend by shaming the NFL on Twitter and saying ratings are way down.

But that might not be the whole truth. Actual data from Nielsen suggests the total reach of the NFL last week was only down 5 percent versus last year. And this year, there have been a host of other factors that are affecting normal football fans' viewing routines — broad-based cord-cutting and the effects of Hurricane Irma among them.

So that big gap between polls and reality could suggest that people are simply lying to pollsters.

It's a phenomenon that goes back many years, where people say what they think a pollster wants to hear but do something different when they're actually confronted with the choice.

It's been cited as one of the reasons that Donald Trump did better in the election than polls suggested he would.

But something else is going on: While the number of people is relatively steady, the average person spends less time watching. That's really no different from what's happening with other TV shows. We know cord-cutting isn't stopping, and more online services are airing games.

Yeah, it's another poll

Interestingly, hardcore football fans are more likely to disagree with the president over the protests than casual fans or people who say they don't really follow the sport. Nearly two-thirds of self-described "huge football fans" say they disagree with the president compared to one-third of non-football fans. That's according to a poll conducted by Fluent, a data-driven marketing company.

That poll also found that half of football fans think the president is trying to divert attention away from other issues by stirring up the controversy.

Thursday night, the Green Bay Packers and some of their fans locked arms before the anthem, suggesting the protests aren't going away anytime soon.

Seton Hall's poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 25 - 27 among 845 adults in the U.S. It has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points. Fluent's poll was conducted online on Sept. 25 among 1,666 adults in the U.S.

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