Americans don’t want Olympics in Russia — but not because they care about human rights

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, left, inspects a model of the planned Sochi Olympic facilities with other Russian officials in this 2013 photo. (DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, left, inspects a model of the planned Sochi Olympic facilities with other Russian officials in this 2013 photo. (Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images)

With the winter Olympics to be held soon in the Russian resort city of Sochi, Americans are talking and thinking a lot about the issues that come with holding a big international sporting event in a country that is increasingly both authoritarian and unfriendly to the United States.

But it turns out that Americans aren't really that worried about holding the Olympics in a country with worsening rights abuses and anti-Americanism, judging by a new survey from Pew. What they care about is security. And they care about that a lot.

The survey asked American respondents, "Was the decision to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia a good or bad decision?" The largest group, 44 percent, said "bad decision." About a third, 32 percent, said "good decision." The rest don't know. Maybe it's not so surprising that Americans would be sour on Russia.

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Among the people who oppose holding the games in Russia, though, an overwhelming majority – 62 percent – say it's because of security concerns. Only 5 percent cite Putin or the Russian government, 4 percent the country's worsening treatment of gays, and 3 percent "political unrest."

It probably shouldn't be shocking that Americans would care more about physical security at an event that will host lots of Americans than they would care about Russian government policies that primarily affect Russians.

Still, the past year has seen heavy U.S. media coverage of Russia's tightening political restrictions and anti-American rhetoric. American gay rights activists organized big boycotts of Russian vodka just a few months ago. President Obama is holding back from the games, and sending a delegation that includes openly gay athletes, presumably to call attention to Russia's anti-gay laws. So you'd think this would be a big thing for Americans. But it appears not to be.

What does appear to be of serious concern for Americans is security. That's not unreasonable, given Russia's recent experience with domestic terror attacks and Sochi's relative proximity to areas of unrest. Still, the fact that Americans are over 15 times more likely to cite security than gay rights seems pretty striking.

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