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In gloomy time, poll finds drop in Games support

Storms, troubled T service blamed for loss of backing

Commuters jammed into a Red Line train at the Quincy Adams station earlier this month.
Commuters jammed into a Red Line train at the Quincy Adams station earlier this month.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The unprecedented storms that have buried Boston in recent weeks appear to have inflicted still more damage, sharply eroding public support for the city’s 2024 Olympic bid.

Just as organizers have launched a major campaign designed to generate enthusiasm for the Games, a poll shows more Boston-area residents now oppose the bid than support it, a reversal from last month.

The results raise an intriguing question: Is the plummeting support merely a temporary weather-related phenomenon — a byproduct of snow-induced sourness — or an enduring problem for local Olympic organizers?

John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, the local Olympic organizing group, placed himself squarely in the weather-related camp on Thursday. He blamed the drop in support on snow-related problems at the MBTA, which has been plagued with breakdowns and delays that have infuriated thousands of commuters.


“That is directly related to the weather conditions,” he said. “People have in the forefront of their minds that our transportation system is not working. People are not satisfied. It’s inconvenient and has gone on for a prolonged period of time.”

At the same time, he said, the T’s problems could help Boston 2024 make its case that hosting the Olympics could spur long-overdue improvements to the mass transit system.

“We think the weather conditions highlight a point we are trying to articulate, and that is the core of our system, which is not functioning well right now, suffers from neglect,” he said.

The poll, taken for WBUR, indicated that the T’s collapse has hurt Boston 2024, which recently launched a campaign to hold 20 community meetings across the state over the next 20 weeks to build support.

About 46 percent of Boston-area residents now oppose the Olympic bid, while 44 support it, according to the survey, conducted from Feb. 12 to Feb. 15. Last month, 33 percent opposed the bid, while 51 percent supported it.


In the city of Boston proper, opposition has grown by 15 points, with 48 percent of city respondents now opposed to the Games compared with 43 percent who support it.

Olympic organizers are counting on a smoothly operating MBTA to move thousands of spectators and tourists during the Games and have pitched the T as one of the key assets that make Boston an attractive host city.

The poll did not directly ask why residents oppose or support the Olympics but found that those who ride the T and believe it is in poor condition are more likely to oppose the bid than those who do not ride the T and believe it is in good condition.

“Your perception of the MBTA’s conditions is closely related to support for the Olympics,” said Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey. “I think that’s one of the things that’s causing people to step back from the Olympics.”

Frustrated T riders seem to be declaring, “if three weeks of blizzards are bad, just imagine three weeks of worldwide tourists flooding our stations,” said Victor Matheson, an economist who studies the Olympics at the College of the Holy Cross.

If public support for the Games continues to fall, it could spell trouble for the bid. Boston is preparing to compete against several international cities, and local support is one factor the International Olympic Committee is expected to consider when it chooses the host city in 2017.


A lasting drop in public support could also spell political problems for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, an enthusiastic backer of the Games who helped persuade the United States Olympic Committee to choose Boston as the US nominee last month.

The poll shows Walsh’s favorability ratings remained virtually unchanged over the last month, with about two-thirds of those surveyed saying they approve of his job performance.

Walsh said this is a “difficult time” to be polling beleaguered Bostonians about hosting international events.

“I’d like to see a poll when we don’t have seven feet of snow on the ground and the transportation system down,” the mayor said in a Globe interview.

Walsh maintained that the intensive planning that comes with an Olympic bid can contribute to modernizing
the transportation network so similar meltdowns do not happen.

Lisa Delpy Nierotti, an Olympic specialist and associate professor of sports management at George Washington University, pointed out that it will be important to survey the public again, after the snow has melted and T service has been restored.

“We have to understand that it’s a negative time all around for people, so you have to be careful with taking polls during periods of stress,” she said. “And, at this point, you have such bad weather, and the conditions are not favorable, that I think everybody’s a little cranky.”

If support for the Olympics is still dwindling after the weather improves, “it may impact the bid,” she said.


“The other cities can use it against us, and the IOC will kind of shy away, maybe, if they think they are going to have seven years of fighting with the locals,” she said. “If the IOC’s name is going to be covered in mud because locals are lambasting it, then that’s not good for the brand.”

Koczela said future surveys will reveal if public support has dropped as a result of the T’s collapse or because residents have been able to more fully review the bid after it was posted last month on the website of Boston 2024.

“The snow will melt and the sun will come out,” Koczela said. “Where will views of the Olympics be then? Will it have faded into the back of people’s minds, or is this a shift in opinion that’s durable?”

The poll found that among Boston-area residents who ride the T, 40 percent support the Olympic bid, while 49 percent oppose it. Among those who believe the T is in fair or poor condition, 40 percent support the bid, while 50 percent oppose it.

Among residents who believe the T is in excellent or good condition, support for the Olympics is much stronger: 55 percent back the bid and 33 percent oppose it.

If public money were used to improve the T as part of the Olympics, 40 percent said they would be more likely to support the bid while 42 percent said it would make no difference.

The use of public funds to build an Olympic stadium or other venues, however, would make 47 percent of residents less likely to support the bid, while 38 percent said it would not make any difference.


The poll measured the opinions of 505 registered Boston area voters – defined as those living inside Route 128 or straddling that corridor. It included 215 voters who live in Boston proper.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points overall and 6.7 percentage points for the Boston-only results.

Mark Arsenault of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@
. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.