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Olympic bid gains support, but with a big ‘if’

Poll finds most back bid when state funds not used

A conceptual rendering shows the Olympic Boulevard concept.Handout/Boston 2024

Massachusetts voters are narrowly split on a Boston-area bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, though a majority across the state and within Boston would back a bid that prohibits public spending on sports venues and the running of the Games, according to a new Boston Globe poll.

Statewide, 46.6 percent of voters support the bid and 49.6 percent are against it, according to a survey of 804 registered voters across Massachusetts. Overall, the results could signal a modest rebound for the bid, which saw public support diminish during the winter.

Opposition to an Olympics bid is more intense within Boston, where a temporary Olympic stadium, athletes' village, and most of the sports venues would be located if the city were to win the Games. A majority of Boston voters — 54 percent — either "strongly oppose" or "somewhat oppose" the bid, while 43 percent say they back it.


The poll suggests that voters across the state would be far more amenable to hosting the Olympics if the bid goes forward with a mandate that no Massachusetts tax money be spent to build venues or to run the Games. Under those conditions, 59 percent of voters statewide, and 57 percent within Boston, say they would support the Olympic bid, which has been proposed by the local bid committee, Boston 2024.

The poll, done for the Globe by Sage Systems, LLC, of Boston, was conducted April 22-23 with live telephone interviews using both landlines and cellphones. The margin of error for the statewide results is 3.46 percent. The survey included 400 interviews with Boston voters. The margin of error for the Boston results is 4.9 percent.

More information: See detailed results from the poll here

"The poll indicates that the free-fall Olympics support saw during the winter months has stabilized somewhat, but is still not at the level which Boston 2024 would hope for," said Frank Perullo, president of Sage. A WBUR survey in March found just 36 percent of Greater Boston voters wanted to pursue the Olympics.


The bid committee has called for a referendum on the bid in November 2016, and has pledged not to move forward unless it wins the endorsement of voters statewide and within Boston.

Boston 2024 has promised to deliver an Olympics financed by no local tax money, and paid for largely by corporate donations, ticket sales, and broadcast and merchandizing fees. The plan does depend on $1 billion or more from federal taxpayers to cover the cost of security, without which Boston could not host the Games, according to the bid committee.

Voters, even some who support the bid, are skeptical that Boston 2024 will be able to keep its promise of a privately financed Olympics, the poll suggests.

"One major hurdle for proponents of Boston's Olympic bid is that 89 percent of Boston residents think it's likely to need tax dollars," Perullo said. "That is a lot of people that need to be convinced of a no-tax-dollars guarantee."

Outside of Boston, 50 percent back the Games. The poll results also suggest a generational divide over the idea of Boston hosting the global event.

Younger voters are generally more enthusiastic about having the international sports festival here nine years from now, according to the survey. Voters age 18-34 are the most likely to support the bid, while voters in the 35-49 age range are closely split. Voters above age 50 were more likely to say they oppose the effort to bring the Olympics to the region.


Respondents were generally positive about the potential effects of the Olympics: 59 percent believe that hosting the 2024 Summer Games would lead to long-term improvements in the MBTA, and 59 percent believe the Games would have lasting benefits for tourism.

However, only 47 percent of respondents believe the Games would bring long-term economic benefits for the region, "suggesting that people may be aware of cost overruns and Olympic losses in previous host cities," Perullo said. Fifty-nine percent are concerned the Olympics could be a target for terrorism, and an overwhelming 93 percent expect traffic and other inconveniences during the Games.

Voters generally seem satisfied with how Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker have handled the Olympic bid. Fifty-six percent say Walsh has dealt with the issue "well" or "very well," while just 22 percent were critical of his performance. Baker got high marks from 52 percent of respondents; just 20 percent said he has dealt with the Olympics poorly or very poorly.

"Clearly Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh have weathered the storm, and people believe they have shown strong and transparent leadership on a complex and contentious issue," Perullo said.

Boston 2024 had a difficult winter, beginning with record snows that overwhelmed the MBTA and seemed to shake public confidence that the transit system could handle an international event, even one during the summer. The bid committee, though entirely financed with private donations, was also roundly criticized over a plan to pay former governor Deval Patrick $7,500 a day for occasional travel to promote the bid. Patrick ultimately said he would forgo the fee. Opponents have attacked the committee's financing plans, and falling public support in polls prompted some calls for the US Olympic Committee to rethink its choice of Boston as the US bid city. The USOC has publicly stood by its choice.


The results of the Globe poll were similar in some respects to a poll conducted April 16-21 by Suffolk University, which found 43 percent of voters statewide in favor of the Games, and 46 percent opposed. Suffolk found that 56 percent of voters would support the bid with the requirement that no public money could be used to operate the Games.

The USOC in January chose Boston to represent the nation in the global competition for the 2024 Games, which would be the first Summer Olympics in the United States since 1996, in Atlanta.

The International Olympic Committee will meet in Peru in 2017 to choose the 2024 host. Rome and Hamburg have announced they will bid. Paris is expected to jump into the contest, and Budapest could also make a bid.

More information on the poll:

Full results from the poll

Questionnaire used to conduct the poll

President of company behind poll explains methodology


Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com.