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Shirley Leung

Boston’s Olympic bid proves popular among polled residents

Boston 2024’s lack of transparencyhas been the contretemps du jour, but that will probably simmer down next week when organizers release most details of the bid.
Boston 2024’s lack of transparencyhas been the contretemps du jour, but that will probably simmer down next week when organizers release most details of the bid.(Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY)

Opponents say if we got a chance to vote on whether Boston should host the Olympics, then we would really know how everyone feels.

Be careful what you wish for. We like the idea of hosting the world’s top athletes.

More than 55 percent of Massachusetts residents surveyed this week support hosting the Olympics compared with nearly 40 percent who oppose it, according to an independent poll conducted by Sage Consulting. Only 5 percent were undecided.

Maybe that’s why Mayor Marty Walsh decided for everyone last week to not have a referendum for the 2024 Summer Games. He already knew the answer. We (secretly) want the Olympic flame burning in our backyard.

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But enthusiasm for the Games comes with a big asterisk. When asked whether residents would support the Olympics if tax dollars were used, close to 61 percent of respondents said they would oppose Boston’s bid and only 33 percent would support it.

“The battle lines are drawn here,” said Paul Scapicchio, the former Boston city councilor who runs Sage with political operative Frank Perullo.

Sage conducted the telephone poll of 1,600 residents on Monday. The margin of error is 2.45 percentage points. Sage does not work for Boston 2024, the group that is organizing the Olympic bid.

Support for the international extravaganza has grown in recent months. A poll of Boston residents Sage conducted in October indicated about 48 percent support a bid, compared with 34 percent opposed.

Scapicchio said Boston 2024 organizers, without much marketing, have generated solid support, though opponents could exploit a soft spot if they can sow doubt about the viability of a privately funded Olympics.

Boston 2024’s lack of transparency has been the contretemps du jour, but that will probably simmer down next week when organizers release most details of the bid. Proprietary data will be excluded because the United States Olympic Committee deemed they would put the city at a competitive disadvantage.

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Last week, Boston became the US nominee to compete internationally to host the 2024 Games. The International Olympic Committee will make a decision in 2017.

What exactly is meant by “tax dollars” will perhaps be the biggest factor in shaping public opinion on Boston’s bid.

Organizers and Walsh have trumpeted the Games as a privately funded $4.5 billion event, one that will practically pay for itself through broadcast fees, corporate sponsorships, and ticket sales. They have pledged that no public money will be used beyond what has to be spent on infrastructure, such as upgrading roads and T stops. Boston 2024 also took out a $25 million insurance policy to protect City Hall coffers from any liabilities associated with the bid.

But this idea that taxpayers won’t be on the hook is already being tested. Security costs almost certainly will need to be picked up by the federal government, which in our post-9/11 and post-Boston Marathon bombing world will probably cost several billion dollars by 2024. That’s public money, yet those funds otherwise would not have come to Massachusetts. So is that an acceptable use of taxpayer dollars?

“There is work to do for the organizers,” Scapicchio said. In particular, people need to be convinced the Games would bring long-term benefits to the region. “That’s what the organizers need to convince people of right now. That’s an issue that seems to move people.”

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What Bostonians think about the Olympics matters to the IOC. In fact, measuring public opinion is a formal part of its evaluation.

By comparison, Boston’s 55 percent in favor would be tepid on the world stage. Take, for example, the public opinion polls from the candidate cities for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which were eventually awarded to London.

According to an IOC report, local support for the Games was as follows: 91 percent in Madrid, 85 percent in Paris, 77 percent in Moscow, 68 percent in London, 59 percent in New York.


Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.