When asked to choose which one sport is America’s favorite, pro football tops the list with 31% of those who follow sports, followed by 16% who say baseball is their favorite, according to The Harris Poll. Rounding out the top five favorite sports are college football (cited by 12%), auto racing (8%) and men’s pro basketball (6%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll conducted online by Harris Interactive between Dec. 9 and Dec. 15, 2008 among 2,388 U.S. adults, 1,582 of whom follow one or more sport.

Since Harris Interactive began asking this question in 1985, professional football has always been on top and its popularity is now seven points higher than it was then (up from 24% to 31%). Compared to 1985’s results, baseball has dropped seven percentage points (from 23% to 16%), and men’s tennis has dropped four percentage points (from 5% to 1%). Professional football isn’t the only sport to gain in popularity. Auto racing has increased its popularity by three percentage points (from 5% to 8%) as has hockey (up 3 percentage points from 2% to 5%).

Demographic Variations

The survey also finds some sizable differences between different segments of the population:

Pro football is most popular among those with household incomes of $50,000 to under $75,000 (43%), African Americans (42%), those aged 30-39 (39%), and Easterners (34%). Those with a post-graduate degree education (20%), Westerners (23%), those aged 65 and older (26%) and Hispanics (27%) are least likely to call football their favorite sport.

Baseball is most popular among Westerners (21%), those aged 65 and older (21%) and Hispanics (20%). Those aged 30-39 (8%) and African Americans (8%) are least likely to say baseball is their favorite sport;
College football is particularly popular among those with a college degree (21%), Southerners (20%) and those aged 25-29 (20%). Just 3% of Easterners, 4% of African Americans and 6% of Hispanics cite college football as their favorite sport.

Auto racing (which includes NASCAR) is most popular among those aged 50-64 (14%), those with a High School or less education (11%) and Midwesterners (10%), while it fares worst among African Americans (1%), those with a post-graduate education (2%), and those aged 18-24 (2%).