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Voters Lean Against Boston Olympic Bid

FRIDAY, APRIL 17, 2015 - 12:01 AM Polling Institute

State Sharply Divided Over Boston 2024 Games

With a proposed referendum still more than 18 months away, Massachusetts voters are leaning against Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic summer games, according to the latest survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 427 registered voters, conducted April 6 – 14, found that only 40 percent of voters support Boston’s bid for the Games, while 46 percent are opposed and 14 percent are undecided. The sample has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points.

The 427 registered voters were part of an overall sample of 499 adults, and among all adults sentiment was more closely divided. Forty-two percent of all adults support the proposal, while 43 percent are opposed and 15 percent are undecided. The sample of 499 adults has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The United States Olympic Committee has selected Boston as the nation’s entry in the competition to host the 2024 Olympic summer games. The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to select the host city in 2017. With other polls showing public support for the bid in decline, the private group that is developing the Olympic bid, Boston 2024, has agreed that it will not proceed with the bid unless voters approve of the idea in a statewide referendum in November 2016. Organizers also have said approval must come from voters in the Boston area in the referendum in order for the bid to go forward for consideration in 2017.

The Polling Institute’s April 6 – 14 survey found that opposition to the proposal was greatest in Boston and surrounding areas, where 48 percent of registered voters said they do not support the bid, while 35 percent support it. Support for the plan was highest in the four counties that comprise Western Massachusetts (Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire), where 54 percent of voters favor the proposal and 34 percent said they are opposed.

The survey found a potentially ominous sign for Boston 2024 and other supporters of the bid. Voters who said they had heard a lot of information or some information about the bid were more likely to oppose it than were voters who had heard only a little or no information.

Among voters who said they had heard a lot of information, 62 percent opposed the bid and 27 percent supported it. Among those who had heard a little information, 45 percent supported the bid, and 39 percent were opposed. Among voters who said they had heard no information, 51 percent supported the bid and 29 percent were opposed.

“When you are trying to win public support for a proposal, you obviously hope your information is getting through to voters and that the information is persuasive,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University. “These results suggest that as people get more information, they are less likely to support the bid. Boston 2024 appears to be losing the public relations debate right now.”

Male voters were more likely than female voters to back the Olympic bid, with 46 percent of men and only 34 percent of women saying they support the proposal. Support also was higher among younger voters and voters with less education. Among voters ages 18 to 39, 54 percent were in favor, compared to only 28 percent of voters ages 65 and older. Voters with a high school diploma or less backed the bid by a margin of 47 percent to 35 percent, while the results were flipped for college graduates, with 39 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.

Voters who said they supported or opposed the bid were then asked to state, in their own words, the top reason for their view. Among supporters, the most frequent reason given was that the Olympics would bring prestige to Boston and would boost civic pride (24 percent); followed by the revenue the Games would bring from visitors, sponsors and athletes (22 percent); the jobs and the economic boost the Olympics would provide (19 percent); and that the Olympics would be an exciting event to attend (17 percent).

Among opponents, the potential need for tax dollars (28 percent) topped the list of reasons why voters said they do not support the bid. Voters also said that Boston lacks the transportation infrastructure to host the Olympics (17 percent), hosting the Games would be too costly and state and local governments would have to pay off debt associated with the Games (16 percent), and that Boston is too small to handle the crowds that an Olympics would bring (15 percent).

Vercellotti noted that although Boston 2024 has offered repeated assurances that the Olympics would not require the use of tax dollars beyond spending already scheduled for infrastructure improvements, voters are skeptical. “A central part of the strategy to build support for the Games does not seem to be working, Vercellotti said. “A significant number of voters are not convinced that taxpayers will be shielded from liability for the cost of hosting the Olympics.”

One of the other main features of the Boston 2024 proposal is that all of the events would be held in Boston or nearby to minimize travel between Olympic venues, as opposed to being spread over a wide area. When voters were asked which approach they would prefer, nearly three out of four – 72 percent – said they would rather see some Olympic events staged in other parts of the state.

Support for spreading events over a larger area was highest among voters on the North and South Shores (82 percent), followed by voters in Central Massachusetts (76 percent), voters in Boston and surrounding areas (65 percent), and then Western Massachusetts (61 percent).

The survey found that staging the games over a wider area also might build support for the bid. When asked whether holding Olympic events in other parts of the state would change their views on the proposal, 36 percent of voters said that would make them more likely to support the bid, while 8 percent said less likely and 51 percent said it would not make a difference.

Among voters who had said earlier in the survey that they opposed the bid, 34 percent said holding events in other parts of the state would make them more likely to support the proposal, while 42 percent of those who already were in favor said the same.

“Opinions are not set in stone, and some voters seem willing to revise their views going forward,” Vercellotti said. “Polls are snapshots of opinions, and there could be changes in the months ahead. But the survey results give a clear sense of where things stand right now, and why voters are divided over the Olympics proposal.”

Established in 2005, the Western New England University Polling Institute conducts research on issues of importance to Massachusetts and the region. The Institute provides the University’s faculty and students with opportunities to participate in public opinion research.