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opinion | Marcela García

An Olympic-sized lack of data on the views of Boston’s minorities

shutter stock/heather hopp-bruce/globe staff illustration

Few details of the already arduous campaign to bring the 2024 Olympics to Boston have gone uncovered. Completely unexplored, however, is one surprising cluster of support for the Boston bid: people of color.

In poll after poll, black and Latino Bostonians — who together make up more than 40 percent of the population in Boston — back the idea of the Olympics, although it is impossible to view the results with statistical certainty. That’s because no pollster has sampled minorities exclusively (and in large enough numbers) to delve into the split in opinion between whites and non-whites. Why are blacks and Latinos seemingly supporting the Olympics in higher numbers? No one has asked them.

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This ignorance is not a new phenomenon. There is a void in Massachusetts minority groups’ views, which creates a gaping hole in our understanding of public opinion in the Commonwealth.

One would think policy makers would be eager to find out what minorities think, especially given the changing demographics of Boston and Massachusetts as a whole. Boston, for example, is home to the largest total number of Latinos in the state (about 110,000), representing 18 percent of the city’s population — and, along with Asians, the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the city. But it is expensive work to poll ethnic groups exclusively, and it also takes a recognition from funders that their opinions count. So instead non-whites are lumped into larger polls, and the number of minorities in the sample is not considered significant. In a majority-minority city like Boston, that’s a huge oversight.

Recent polling on the Olympics reflects the fuzzy picture of true community sentiment. A WBUR April poll conducted by The MassINC Polling Group of 509 voters in Greater Boston shows the statistically unreliable polling sample for minorities. For whites, support for Boston 2024 was only 38 percent, while 52 percent oppose it; for non-whites, support was at 51 percent, and opposition at 36 percent. Yet only about 100 minority residents were polled, numbers too small to draw meaningful conclusions. (A recent Globe poll conducted by Sage Systems, LLC, didn’t breakdown demographics by race.)

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But other surveys consistently have shown the same trend, a divide in sentiment between whites and minorities. “Each one of those results reasserts each other,” says MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela. “Because every single poll is saying the same thing, that there is a racial/ethnic divide in Olympics support, each one increases the confidence of the result.”

Koczela wants to do something about the information gap in minority opinion. A traditional poll of 500 residents in Boston can cost around $15,000, but to include all minority groups in a survey, significant oversampling is needed, as well as to survey in three languages — all of which can multiply costs quickly. “The percentage of Massachusetts that is white is shrinking. That to me says that we should be doing better at understanding what [minorities] opinions are, what they’re thinking, what their priorities are in terms of public policy.”

The existing void leads to widespread misunderstanding of the views of people of color, says Matt Barreto, cofounder of Latino Decisions, one of the leading research firms of Hispanic public opinion in the country.

“It’s unbelievable that efforts to poll a statewide population are not being done in Spanish, or in Mandarin for that matter, when so many states are going through this rapid demographic change and so many immigrants are part of this state and they are not being interviewed for these projects,” he says. It’s not just a lack of money, he adds. It’s also a lack of effort. “These traditional data collection firms or newspaper polls just don’t even think about Asians or Latinos. They just don’t have it in front of their mind.” It’s also not that hard and not that expensive to translate a survey into Spanish and hire bilingual workers: “You need workers anyway; you might as well hire them bilingual.”

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That leaves observers to speculate about the signals of support among minorities for the Olympics. “There’s a long line of social science research that shows that minorities have high levels of patriotism,” says Barreto. “The Olympics are fundamentally patriotic and immigrants would enjoy seeing the Olympics in America. They see it as a positive to host the Olympics.”

It’s a theory that’s not lost on the Boston 2024 movement, which has courted minority support. (The group hired Archipelago Strategies Group, led by Josiane Martinez — another graduate of the Deval Patrick school — to do outreach and messaging in immigrant communities. They declined to release details of their internal polling.) And maybe — hopefully — before the dust settles from the Olympic bid, we’ll see some hard polling data on what minorities really think.

Marcela García is a Globe editorial writer. Follow her on Twitter: @marcela_elisa.

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