Is hosting the World Cup a “propaganda victory” for Vladimir Putin? That’s the question being asked – or rather, begged – as the United Kingdom pulls ministers from the coming tournament in Russia and others campaign for England football team not to participate (a likely compromise is for the team to attend, but to play badly).
Of course, Putin’s Russia is a “managed democracy”: that is to say, it has the appearance of democratic contests but in fact does not. So the importance of a propaganda victory is relatively minor. I was curious, however, to see if there was any evidence that successfully hosting a major sporting tournament had any bearing on a party’s success, so I went back through the contests since the financial crisis.
Happily for our purposes – I am using only World Cups and European Championships, because I have more polling information and more democracies to choose from – the most recent two contests occurred in democracies and relatively close to an election.
France hosted the 2016 European Championship, reaching the final before losing to Portugal, a successful tournament by anyone’s standards. However, François Hollande’s approval rating declined throughout the contest and the ruling Socialists went down to epochal defeat the following year. The winners, Portugal, had had an election the year before. It is true to say that Antonio Costa and his ruling party’s ratings climbed throughout the tournament but not by any more than the general improvement in Costa and his party’s standings. So there doesn’t seem to be much of a winners’ boost there.
The most recent World Cup was…