If your reaction to hearing that the Beijing Winter Olympics have already begun is, “Wait, didn’t we just have an Olympics?” then you’d be right. While the summer of 2020 was supposed to be a time of joyous celebration surrounding the Tokyo Games, we instead got stuck with “Is This a Cake?” as the Olympics were pushed to 2021 due to the pandemic.
If you sense that fewer people care about the 2022 Olympics than usual, you’d also be right. In fact, the majority of Americans don’t believe they should be taking place. Sportico surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, in a partnership with Harris Poll, and found that 62% either strongly or somewhat agree that, due to the global COVID situation, the Winter Olympics should not be held at this time. There is a significant partisan divide, but both Democrats (71%) and Republicans (55%) are generally in agreement.
The pandemic isn’t the only hesitation that U.S. citizens have about the upcoming Games. There is also the host nation, China, and its human rights record: specifically, the use of forced labor camps to suppress its Muslim minority population.
In December, the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics, meaning the U.S. would not be sending any official representatives to Beijing. Since then, several other countries have joined the largely symbolic gesture.
Although Pew Research Center found that nine out of 10 Americans had either heard “nothing at all” or “very little” about the boycott, there is support for it nonetheless. Our survey reveals that 72% of Americans agree with the decision by the U.S. government.
Furthermore, the percentage of people who say they would have “strongly” or “somewhat” considered a complete boycott of the Olympics, including not even sending athletes to compete, is just a shade lower, at 69%, similar to the Sportico poll conducted over the summer. That number outpaces the 61% percent of Americans who favored the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow after it was announced by President Jimmy Carter during March of that year. Interestingly, however, support for that boycott was higher during the month prior to the announcement, coming in at 74% in February.
In 2022, U.S. citizens are likewise backing the domestic boycott, with Democrats (79%) and Republicans (70%) both agreeing in large numbers. Older generations are much more on board: 84% of Boomers thought it was the correct move, compared with 75% of Gen X and 63% of Millennials.
The actions of China’s authoritarian government have been felt in the sports world. Tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared in November after publicly accusing a former Communist Party vice premier of sexual assault. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach recently said the Chinese tennis star is safe and that he plans to meet her in person this month. The Women’s Tennis Association, though, pulled all tour events out of China in the absence of a thorough investigation and verified evidence of her safety.
Only 13% of the U.S. public has seen, read or heard “a lot” about the Peng Shuai situation, with half of the population hearing either “a little bit” or “not too much” and the remaining 38% hearing “nothing at all.” So, while China’s hosting of the Games is clearly disapproved of in the U.S., people may not be keenly aware of the details regarding what exactly is being boycotted and why.
According to a Morning Consult poll, though, 40% of respondents who said they don’t plan to watch any of the Winter Olympics cited China as one of the reasons. The 27% of all Americans who don’t plan on tuning in is up from the 19% who said the same before the Tokyo Olympics, which itself attracted roughly 4 million fewer viewers per night than the next least-watched Olympics since 1988.
If the survey data is any indication, the 2022 Olympics could be a historically low-interest iteration of the iconic biennial event.