A “political football” is politically divisive issue, something that gets “kicked” around by both sides. The term is cited in English at least as early as 1748 and 1772—about a century before the birth of American football and before even the birth of the United States.
Wikipedia: Political football
A political football is a political topic or issue that is continually debated but left unresolved. The term is used often during a political election campaign to highlight issues that have not been completely addressed, such as the natural environment and abortion.
There are many reasons that an issue may be left unresolved. Examples are:
. The issue may be highly controversial with the populace rather evenly split on both sides. In this case, a government has no clear positive action to take.
. A government may want the opposite of what the majority of the people want. By not making a decision, the government creates time to attempt to convert the public opinion.
. Government may be split on a decision and neither side is willing to give in to the other.
. A minority group in government may be opposed to a decision and will use a method to delay a decision, such as a filibuster.
. Politicians may be attempting to draw the issue into public debate in order to gain their own popularity at the polls.
The Free Dictionary
Fig. an issue that becomes politically divisive; a problem that doesn’t get solved because the politics of the issue get in the way. The question of campaign contributions has become a political football. All the politicians who accept questionable money are pointing fingers at each other.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
political football n. a subject of contentious political debate; an issue not resolved by succeeding governments.
1848 Times 23 May 5/2 It is all very well for him to kick the *political football about.
1857 Bangor (Maine) Daily Whig & Courier 12 Oct. 2/2 Smart of the Belfast Free Press is laboring..to keep the temperance question as a political football.
1971 Financial Mail (Johannesburg) 26 Feb. 673/3 The whole question of new negotiations seems to have become a political football and little more.
2001 Independent 22 Mar. I. 16/7 Then it became a political football, kicked around for two decades.
Jacobite and nonjuring principles, freely examined in a letter to the master-tool of the faction at Manchester. With remarks on some part of a book lately published, intitled, A full, true, and comprehensive view of Christianity, &c. wrote by Dr. Deacon
By Josiah Owen
Manchester: printed for the author, by R. Whitworth
Thither I would recommend it to him to transport himself, and if he pleases, he may take his R-y-l Master, France’s political Foot-ball with him.
August 1772, The London Magazine, or, Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, pg. 363, col. 2:
Poor foul! he was long the political foot-ball, the game of green statesmen, and the understrapper of understrappers…
The Man of the World: a comedy in five acts
by Charles Macklin
London: Thomas Hailes Lacy
He is a political football, kicked to and fro by every party, and, at last, left to the neglect and con- tume.y of all.
3 May 1836, Eastern Argus (ME), pg. 2:
But let this pass. it is, after all, but a political football; and now that the parties have burst the bladder and trodden the case under foot, they will have leisure to examine their barked shins, and see what fools they have been for working themselves into a sweat and rage by kicking a bag of wind.
The Congressional Globe
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Friday, January 22, 1841
These lands were nothing but a bone of contention — a political football, bandied about first by one party and than the other.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Tuesday, December 15, 2009 • Permalink