While a new WBUR poll found 50 percent of people in Boston support a 2024 Olympic bid — compared to just 33 percent who oppose a bid — that public backing is not as high as levels of support found in earlier surveys of previous host cities.
That isn't to say support can't rise, but in London, 68 percent of people backed bringing the 2012 Olympics to the city, according to polling from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Rio de Janeiro boasted a much higher level of support, with 84.5 percent in favor of the 2016 Games. And in Tokyo, 70 percent of people supported the 2020 Olympics bid.
The host city for the 2024 Games won't be determined until 2017, but public opinion does play a role in the IOC's choice of an Olympics host city. The organization carries out its own public opinion polling as part of its assessment of each candidate city.
"Their interest in the data is that they want to go somewhere that they're wanted, so you'd want to have an honest view of what that level of support versus opposition is going to be," said Steve Koczela of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducted WBUR's poll.
In each IOC poll, respondents were asked: "To what extent would you support or oppose [city] hosting the Olympic Summer Games?" Respondents could choose "strongly oppose," "oppose," "neutral/no opinion," "support" or "strongly support" as answers.
In the WBUR poll, out Tuesday morning, respondents were asked: "Do you support or oppose the idea of bringing the Olympic Games to the Boston region in 2024?" They could choose support, oppose or don't know/refused as answers.
There are some further caveats to consider here. In addition to different wording on questions, the IOC polls and the WBUR poll have different methodologies and were conducted at different timeframes, given the Olympics in question. But the IOC data does provide a picture of Olympic support in other cities.
Here is a closer look at IOC polls for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 Summer Games:
For the 2012 Olympics, there were five candidate cities — London, Paris, New York, Moscow and Madrid. Of the five vying for the Games, the U.S. bid city had the lowest level of support with 59 percent. This IOC-commissioned poll was conducted by Ipsos MORI, a U.K. research company, in December 2004, about seven months before the IOC announced London as host.
Six months earlier in June 2004, a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found 67 percent of voters in New York City supported the bid and 25 percent were against it. That margin changed to 64-30 in another poll conducted by Quinnipiac about a year later in May 2005.
Support in Chicago, the U.S. bid city for the 2016 Olympics, was at 67.3 percent, but nowhere near the levels of support found in Madrid (84.9 percent) and Rio de Janeiro (84.5 percent). (Rio won the bid for the Games.) Tokyo had the lowest level of support of the four cities, with 55.5 percent of residents in favor of its bid. This IOC-commissioned poll was conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys, a sports research company, in February 2009.
A Chicago Tribune poll, also conducted in February 2009, found 64 percent supported the bid while 28 percent opposed the bid. In another Tribune poll that support fell to 45 percent about six months later (and one month before the IOC selected the host city) after Mayor Richard Daley promised the city would be financially responsible for any losses.
There were no U.S. cities in the running for the 2020 Olympics. The levels of support in the three candidate cities — Istanbul, Turkey and Madrid — were very high, with at least 70 percent of people in each country supporting the bids. This IOC poll was conducted by REPUCOM/Sports Marketing Surveys. Tokyo was granted the Olympics by the IOC and had a much higher level of support than it did during its failed 2016 bid.
Public Opinion Can Change In Boston
It's important to note that each of the IOC polls was conducted seven years before each of the Games. WBUR's poll was conducted nine years before the 2024 Olympics are set to take place. And at this early stage in the Olympic bidding process, opinions can certainly change.
"That's the challenge for proponents is to move support from 51 percent up to where the IOC polling has shown seven years out," Koczela said. "There's plenty of time and there certainly will be a lot of money spent trying to move opinion."
The margin of support versus opposition for the bid was 50-33 in the city of Boston and 51-33 in the Boston area. Kozcela said it would be surprising if those numbers put Boston in the top tier of cities competing for the 2024 Games.
"It's good if you are trying to win an election, you know 51-33 having a margin like that is a good number if all you need to do is get more votes than the opponent, but what support in Boston will be looked at against is the support level in the cities against which we are competing," Koczela said.
The final list of cities bidding for the 2024 Olympics is not yet set. But at this point, Boston will compete against Rome, Germany and possibly South Africa, Istanbul and Doha.