Originally posted at CommonWealth Magazine January 23, 2015.
BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH and representatives of Boston 2024 have made claims about levels of public support for the idea of a Boston Olympics that are not supported by the numbers. Here are a few:
- Boston 2024 President Dan O’Connell said on WGBH’s Greater Boston, “I’ve sensed […] overwhelming support for pursuing this effort.” O’Connell repeated the claim at the first public presentation of the bid. “We see a strong majority of support for these Games, and we think it will grow as the community process moves forward.”
- A presentation made to high-dollar donors and reported by the Boston Globe claims, “Boston 2024 has strong, and rapidly growing, public support. Polls show more than the majority of the public want the Games to come –including three out of four Bostonians of color.”
- “I’d be willing to bet if you took a poll today, the majority of Bostonians are excited about this bid,” Mayor Walsh said at a press conference after Boston had been announced as the US Olympic Committee’s choice, in response to a question about holding a public referendum on the matter.
- “I’ve seen polling numbers where a majority of Bostonians are in favor of the Olympics, they’re excited about the possibility of the Olympics,” Mayor Walsh told WGBH’s Scrum podcast in December.
None of the public polls, including one done by the MassINC Polling Group for WBUR, have found support levels that fit these descriptions. The four public polls conducted over the last 8 months have found support ranging from 47 percent to 55 percent statewide, and between 50 and 54 percent in the city of Boston. None of these can be reasonably characterized as overwhelming support. Even Boston2024’s own statewide polling, released as a part of the bid documents made public this week, showed 48 percent support statewide. The support figures from their Boston poll have not been released. The poll we conducted for WBUR also looked specifically at the claim that a majority of Bostonians are excited about the bid, and found the number at 48 percent.
The one instance where polls do show high support levels is at the end of the Boston2024 poll, at which point 66 percent say they support the proposal. If current support were at two-thirds, this would indeed match the descriptions outlined above. But this support level is found after a series of questions describing both positive and negative aspects of the Olympics proposal. This is a standard method in a poll trying to understandpotential support for a proposal about which respondents have limited initial understanding, or where a campaign might be run with both positive and negative messages about an idea. The idea is to try to approximate the public discourse about something and see how it moves opinion. In this case, this process moves support, which should be encouraging to proponents. But it is potential support, and cannot be used as an approximation for current support.
It is also not comparable to the strong support shown in cities as they were competing for past Olympics, where support often hit levels of 70 to 90 percent. Boston’s comparable number to these high levels of support is somewhere between 48 and 55 percent. Boston may reach a similarly high level of support to these other cities at some point, but to claim that support is already a strong majority is clearly misleading.
And if we are to rely on current support levels from any poll on this issue, public or private, we are around half who are in favor of the proposal. It may be slightly less, may be slightly more. But support is not strong, a strong majority, or rapidly growing, and the majority of Bostonians are not excited by the idea as of now.
Steve Koczela is president and Rich Parr is the research director of the MassINC Polling Group, a subsidiary of MassINC, which publishes CommonWealth.