Feb 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive poll: Why Americans are turned off by the Olympics

Data: Axios/Momentive Poll; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Americans' concerns about the Chinese government's human rights abuses, surveillance and international competitiveness — and fears of another COVID-19 outbreak — are driving down enthusiasm about this year's Winter Olympics, according to a new Axios-Momentive poll.

The big picture: Seven in 10 survey respondents disapprove of allowing China to host these Olympics — but half plan to tune in anyhow.

  • Just 7% say they're more enthusiastic about this year's games than the 2018 games in South Korea, while 47% say they're less enthusiastic.
  • Fewer than half of Americans say the Olympics should go ahead while the Omicron variant is spreading, while the rest say the Games should be postponed (34%) or canceled (16%).

Six in 10 Americans (61%) couldn't name a single athlete who's competing.

  • Snowboarder Shaun White got the most mentions (6%) from people who did name athletes they were looking forward to watching. Another 1% mentioned Simone Biles — who isn't competing in the Winter Olympics.
A word cloud with the names of athletes Americans say they'll be watching at the Winter Olympics
Data: Momentive

What they're saying: "People aren’t happy that the Olympics are in China, but it’s still the Olympics," said Laura Wronski, senior manager for research science at Momentive.

  • Americans' mixed feelings extend to COVID, as well: 47% said the Games should continue as scheduled, but 76% said it's likely that there will be a COVID outbreak among the athletes, and 68% said there's likely to be an outbreak among the general public.

Between the lines: There's widespread concern about the human rights abuses in China, and broad support for the U.S. diplomatic boycott — 73% approve of the policy.

  • But the poll also found deep skepticism that the boycott will matter, with 74% saying it will make no difference in the Chinese government's approach to human rights.
  • Americans are also skeptical of China's mandatory app that will monitor monitor health and travel data: 57% say they believe it's actually being used for surveillance rather than to control the spread of the virus.

The intrigue: The survey found Democrats far more likely to watch at least some of the games (61%) than Republicans (45%) or independents (36%).

  • That's a shift from the summer games, when 69% of Democrats, 61% of Republicans and 54% of independents planned to watch.
  • China's status as host country appears to be one driver of the partisan split. 80% of Republicans disapprove of China hosting the games, compared with 67% of Democrats.

By the numbers: Americans' top concerns are the Chinese government's human rights abuses (52%), followed by COVID-19 (46%), surveillance (41%) and elevating China's international status (33%).

  • Republicans are more likely than Democrats to worry about surveillance — 53% of Republicans cite it as a concern vs. 34% of Democrats — and to worry about boosting China’s international status (46% of Republicans vs. 26% of Democrats).
  • Democrats are more concerned than Republicans about another COVID outbreak, with 60% of Democrats saying they're worried about it compared to 35% of Republicans.
  • Majorities of both parties (58% of Democrats, 56% of Republicans) were about concerned about human rights. Only 38% of independents said they were worried about it.
  • One in four Americans said they'll root against athletes from China and Russia, while 23% said they'd root against athletes from Iran — just slightly higher than the share who said the same before our poll ahead of the Summer Olympics.

Methodology: This Momentive online poll was conducted Jan. 28-31 among a national sample of 2,590 adults. Respondents for this survey were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the Momentive platform each day.

  • The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 2 percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.

Go deeper:

The IOC stays silent on human rights in China

The Omicron Olympics face the ultimate test

Go deeper