Student-conducted class surveys consistently found the Pennsylvania critter was the preferred authority. In a 2019 student-run survey, 61.2% chose the TV groundhog with only 38.8% believing the forecasting abilities of their local woodchucks.
It is understandable. The people of Punxsutawney have worked hard for more than a century to create a spectacle of themselves and their groundhog worthy of national media attention. This year’s festival, the 138th, includes a Groundhog Eve talent show, Groundhog Club Members-Only Reception and the annual Groundhog Banquet.
Held at Gobbler’s Knob, a natural amphitheater outside of town, the official showgrounds open at 3 a.m. on Groundhog Day. Tickets may be purchased for access to a heated pavilion featuring food, coffee, a live feed of the proceedings, private portable restrooms, an official souvenir and the chance to have a photo taken with the rodent of the hour.
Phil is then presented to the audience – an estimated 40,000 people have been known to gather in some years – makes his prediction and is returned to his residence. This year, he will also make guest appearances at a weekend luncheon and Groundhog Ball with live music, dancing and libations.
“You’ve got to hand it to the folks in Punxsutawney. They recognized that today all media must have a visual with every story,” Guterbock said. “They offer a colorful image of men in top hats pulling a wakeful groundhog out of a box – perfect for TV, Instagram or TikTok.
“Unfortunately, the wild groundhogs in your neighborhood don’t make themselves visible to photographers in February. Out of sight, out of mind.”
Still, Phil’s hegemony makes little sense to Guterbock.
“Suppose that on Feb. 2 it is clear and bright in Punxsutawney, but cloudy in your hometown,” Guterbock said. “Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, but the local groundhogs do not. If you believed in the Groundhog Day story and you wanted to know when spring would be coming to your hometown, which groundhog ought you rely upon?”
When Guterbock learned a few months ago that Verasight was offering the chance to add a question to a nationwide survey, he asked for inclusion of a question about groundhog priority.
Verasight has created a high-quality, nationally representative survey panel recruited primarily through scientific sampling, rather than volunteers.
The survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3%, showed Punxsutawney Phil was the top meteorologic marmot in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. In fact, Phil was the top dog across census regions, age groups, gender categories, racial and ethnic categories, and income and education categories.