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Americans Are Increasingly Meh On The Olympics

Did you tune into (or are you currently watching) the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics Friday morning? Did you even realize the opening ceremonies were happening? If not, you’re not alone. Polling shows enthusiasm for the Games is muted, and while the Winter Games are typically not as popular as Summer Games in the U.S., the fact that the Olympics are being held in China doesn’t help. 

American interest in the Games is lower than it has been in the past. According to an Ipsos poll conducted ​​Dec. 23–Jan. 7, 42 percent of adults said they were interested in the upcoming Games, compared with 55 percent ahead of the last Winter Olympics, in 2018. Just 45 percent of American adults said they planned to watch some or a lot of the Olympics, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted Jan. 25-27. That’s roughly the same as the percentage who said they planned to watch the Summer Games in Tokyo last year, though that marked a record low for viewership intent according to the pollster.

The reasons for that dip are mysterious and multifaceted. Of those who told Morning Consult that they don’t plan to watch, 65 percent said it was because they aren’t interested in the events, and 57 percent said it’s because they aren’t interested in the athletes (13 percent, meanwhile, blamed the time zone difference). There are likely a number of underlying factors provoking this lack of interest: For one thing, the last Olympic Games were just six months ago, so there may be a bit of event fatigue since the Games are typically spaced out every two years. There’s also been a general decline in TV ratings for sports in recent years. And, as mentioned above, the Winter Olympics tend to be a tougher sell for American audiences compared with the Summer Games. Meanwhile, 40 percent in the Morning Consult poll said they don’t plan to watch the Olympics this year because they are opposed to China hosting the Games, and 31 percent cited it as a “major” reason.

This is a politics column, so let’s focus on that stat a bit. Americans’ views toward China have become more chilly in recent years: a Pew Research Center survey last February found 67 percent of U.S. adults felt very or somewhat “cold” toward China, up from 46 percent in 2018. Among Republicans, those feelings were stronger, with 79 percent of Republicans feeling the chill. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 10-17 this year, Americans were more likely to say that, on balance, they consider China a competitor rather than an enemy, but among Republicans that trend reversed: 52 percent of Republicans said China was an enemy, compared with 40 percent who considered the nation a competitor.

The choice to host the Games in Beijing has been contentious due to China’s human rights record, including abuse and violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country, such as predominantly Muslim Uyghurs. In response to the criticism, the Biden administration chose not to send an official delegation to the Games (as did a handful of other nations), a kind of “diplomatic boycott.” In a poll conducted by Data for Progress from Dec. 15-18 (shortly after the boycott was announced), 67 percent of likely voters supported the decision not to send a delegation, and a plurality of American adults either somewhat or strongly approved of the boycott, according to the January Pew survey. But that Pew survey also showed just 9 percent of adults had heard a lot about it. In fact, 45 percent hadn’t heard anything about the boycott at all. Among those who had heard a lot about it, 69 percent approved of the decision.

Some Americans want U.S. corporations to take a stand as well. When asked whether they think “companies should withdraw their advertisements for the February 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in response to human rights violations by the Chinese government,” 54 percent of U.S. adults said probably or definitely yes, according to a Grid/Morning Consult poll conducted Jan. 22-23. Just 34 percent of U.S. adults somewhat or strongly support brands or companies sponsoring the Olympics, according to a separate Morning Consult poll conducted Jan. 29-31, while 58 percent would support brands pulling out of the Games. However, brands might be able to win support simply by issuing a statement condemning China’s actions: 55 percent of U.S. adults said they would support such a move.

Notably, though, Americans still stand behind athletes who chose to attend the Games: 63 percent said they support U.S. athletes participating in the Games, according to that Grid/Morning Consult poll. It captures a sentiment that has been commonly expressed in the run-up to the Games: It’s fair to criticize the International Olympic Committee for selecting China as a host, and it’s fair to criticize China for its history. But many argue there’s no need to punish the athletes, for whom the chance to compete at the highest level is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One that, judging by the polling, many Americans won’t see.

Other polling bites

  • According to a Jan. 21-24 Data for Progress poll of likely voters, 58 percent said they would support the Biden administration striking a diplomatic deal with Russia to avoid war with Ukraine. Democrats, in particular, favored diplomacy, with 71 percent in favor. A slight plurality (46 percent) of Republicans agreed. However, when Americans were asked in a Jan. 28-29 ABC News/Ipsos poll about the U.S. sending troops to eastern Europe to try to discourage Russia from invading Ukraine, respondents were split: 38 percent said they opposed sending troops, 29 percent supported it and 32 percent said they didn’t know.
  • Americans’ views of the economy are still mostly pessimistic. According to a Jan. 3-16 poll by Gallup, 67 percent said they thought the economy was getting worse versus 29 percent who said it was getting better. They did find one bright spot, though: the job market. A 43 percent plurality predicted that the unemployment rate would decrease over the next six months. In addition, 72 percent said now was a good time to get a quality job — among the highest figures the pollster has recorded since it began tracking the question in 2001.
  • The majority of parents of school-age children (67 percent) believe that pandemic-related educational disruptions have put their children somewhat or very behind in school, according to a Jan. 19-26 CivicScience poll. And while children from higher-income families generally perform better in school, parents who made more than $125,000 a year were more likely (80 percent) to believe the pandemic put their children behind educationally than those who made less than $35,000 a year (65 percent).
  • While there’s widespread support for the Biden administration’s decision to mail free at-home COVID-19 tests to anyone who wants one, fewer than half (47 percent) were able to successfully request one. In a Jan. 22-25 Economist/YouGov poll, fully vaccinated adults were much more likely to have successfully requested an at-home COVID-19 test (54 percent) compared with those who say they will not get the jab (27 percent). Instead, a majority (70 percent) of unvaccinated adults said they hadn’t tried to request one.
  • Americans are largely satisfied with their own lives but dissatisfied with the direction of the country as a whole. Eighty-five percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with how things were going in their personal lives, while just 17 percent said the same for the United States, according to Gallup. People with an annual household income of $100,000 or more and those who attend religious services weekly were most likely to report satisfaction with their personal lives (at 94 and 92 percent, respectively). While nonwhite people (27 percent) and Democrats (30 percent) were the most likely to be satisfied with the direction of the country, just 12 percent of white people and just 4 percent of Republicans said the same.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 41.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.9 points). At this time last week, 41.7 percent approved and 53.3 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -11.6 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -8.4 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Republicans currently lead by 1.9 percentage points (44.3 percent to 42.4 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 1.9 points (44.2 percent to 42.2 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 0.5 points (42.4 percent to 41.9 percent).

Footnotes

  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Kaleigh Rogers is FiveThirtyEight’s technology and politics reporter.

Jean Yi is a politics intern at FiveThirtyEight.

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