(Reuters) - Nearly half of those responding to a national survey believe the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots, engulfed in controversy over the so-called “Deflategate” scandal, are cheaters.
However, those polled over the weekend by the Emerson College Polling Society found 57 percent believe the incident is no big deal.
While 47 percent of respondents in the poll thought the Patriots are cheaters, only 28 percent believe Patriots head coach Bill Belichick should be suspended for the Super Bowl.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fared better, with only 25 percent saying Tom Brady should be suspended.
The Patriots used under-inflated footballs during their 45-7 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 18 in the AFC championship game. Many players believe balls with less air, which is against National Football League rules, could aid a quarterback’s grip on his passes.
No one has been found to have taken the air out of the balls and the NFL investigation is continuing.
Younger people were more in favor of suspending Brady for Sunday’s Super Bowl, with 34 percent between 18-34 years old saying he should be sidelined, compared to 24 percent of those age 35-54 and 20 percent age 55-74.
Only 12 percent age 75 and older said Brady should be suspended.
While the controversy has dominated the pre-game hype, the poll showed 36 percent of the American public is rooting for the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl, compared to 31 percent for the Patriots. Thirty-three percent do not care who wins.
Taking away personal loyalties, 41 percent of those surveyed believe the Patriots will win the game, compared to 35 percent who think the Seahawks will claim the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The ECPS poll of 1,098 adults, released on Monday, was conducted Jan. 23-24 with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington