Sochi Games lack widespread support among Americans

February 5, 2014

The Winter Olympics are getting a lukewarm reception from the American public, which has wide dislike for the Russian president and concerns over terrorism. Half of Americans have a favorable impression of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia opening Thursday, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll; four in 10 have unfavorable views.

That’s a far cry from the 72 percent favorable rating entering the Summer Olympics in London two years ago. The Sochi Olympics have been clouded in controversy, from concerns over terrorism to the eye-popping price tag and Russia’s anti-gay laws.

The public’s rare Olympic skepticism about Sochi was underscored by a Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday, which found a plurality saying it was a “bad decision” to hold the winter Olympics in Russia. When asked why, the vast majority of this group cited security concerns.

Construction and preparation for the Sochi Olympics reportedly have cost more than $50 billion, by far the most expensive of any Olympic games. In comparison, the London Olympics cost approximately just more than $14 billion.

Americans are generally positive on Russia’s efforts to prevent terrorist attacks at the games — 53 percent have favorable views — tepid assessments that are strongly connected to views of the game overall.

Among those who have favorable views of Russia’s efforts on terrorism see the games favorably by a 68 to 25 percent margin. But those who have unfavorable impressions are nearly the mirror opposite on the games overall, 68 percent unfavorable to 29 percent favorable.

American liberals are the least enthusiastic about Russia’s games. Just 44 percent of liberals have a favorable impression of the upcoming event, compared with 57 percent of moderates and 51 percent of conservatives.  The cause isn’t entirely clear, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prickly comments about gays and lesbians likely were received poorly by the American left.

Liberals were nearly twice as positive about London’s upcoming 2012 games, when 81 percent were favorable, slightly above that of both moderates and conservatives (72 and 71 percent).

Putin’s ratings are more than 2-to-1 unfavorable than favorable in the new poll, 58 percent to 27 percent, with 16 percent expressing no opinion. However, Putin is more popular than former American Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding was 20 years ago. Harding, who was at the center of a dramatic incident in which her ex-husband hired a hitman to attack her skating rival Nancy Kerrigan prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, had a 10 percent favorable rating and 78 percent unfavorable in a December 1994 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll following those Games. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the attack.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 29 – Feb. 2 among a random national sample of 1,013 adults, including interviews on conventional telephones and with cellphone-only respondents. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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