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Pandemic & Politics Dampen Olympic Spirit


Gymnastics, swimming, track most popular events

West Long Branch, NJ – Just over half of the American public says it was a good idea to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics this month, although about a third have less interest in these Games than in years past. The Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll finds concerns about holding the event in the midst of a pandemic as well as backlash against athletes who make political statements are the leading reasons for declining interest. Among those who are following the Games this year, gymnastics, swimming, and track are named as America’s favorite Olympic sports.

A majority (55%) of the American public feels it was a good idea to hold the Tokyo Olympics this year. On the other hand, 36% say it was a bad idea, including 24% who say it should have been postponed again and 11% who say it should have been canceled entirely. Seven in ten feel it is either very likely (27%) or somewhat likely (43%) that a Covid outbreak will occur among the athletes. [In comparison, a Zika epidemic hung over the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but a CNN/ORC poll at the time found that less than half the public felt an outbreak of that virus among the athletes was very (11%) or somewhat (36%) likely.]

Just 16% of Americans have a lot of interest in this year’s Olympic Games. Another 43% have a little interest, while 41% have no interest at all.  In fact, nearly 1 in 10 (9%) say they hadn’t even heard about the Games taking place in Tokyo this month.

About 4 in 10 say they will watch either a lot (11%) or some (27%) of the Olympics coverage. Another 32% of the public will watch very little of the Tokyo Games and 30% do not plan to watch any of it. Viewer interest is down from five years ago when a clear majority said they were planning to watch a lot (18%) or some (36%) of the Rio Olympics, according to the July 2016 CNN/ORC poll.

“The Olympic spirit is a bit dampened this year. The delay from last year and lack of spectators have taken the edge off the typical anticipation and excitement for this event. But the emergence of Black Lives Matter in the sports world has also led to a backlash among some Americans,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

One-third (36%) of Americans expressly say they have less interest in this year’s Olympics compared with past Games. When asked the reason why, nearly a third (30%) of this group specifically mention something to do with the pandemic and another third (34%) point to politics. The remainder give a variety of reasons for having less interest this year.

The pandemic-related responses divide into two groups: those who question the wisdom of holding the Olympics while the coronavirus is still active and those who feel changes made to the Games because of the pandemic have made it less compelling.  The political reasons are almost entirely people upset with athletes using the platform to express political views. Not surprisingly, among those less interested in the Olympics this year, just over half of Democrats (51%) point to Covid as the reason for their lack of interest while just over half of Republicans (51%) cite politics.

Why Americans Have Less Interest in the Olympic Games

“Because I don’t feel like our athletes are competing and supporting the United States of America like they have in the past. I believe woke politics have gotten into every aspect of athletics, and that includes the Olympics.” – Florida woman, 51, Republican

“The people we sent over aren’t representing the country. They’re kneeling at the flag.” – Maryland man, 40s, independent

“I don’t want to see virtue signaling. Be a proud American.” – New Jersey woman, 45, independent

“Delta Covid cases are showing up in Athletes; spectators are not allowed; athletes’ support teams are not able to come. The International Olympic Committee are a bunch of thieves.” – Wisconsin man, 62, leans Democrat

“It’s not going to be cheering crowds.” – New York man, 65, leans Democrat

“Basically because the overall level of competition is down due to the worldwide Covid pandemic.” – Florida man, 71, leans Democrat

“I just have less interest with everything this year.” – California man, 75, leans Republican

“Usually I’m very excited. Scared of it being a super-spreader event.” – Ohio woman, 34, Democrat

“Because there is too much other stuff going on in the world.” – Louisiana man, 77, Democrat

On a lighter note, the poll finds that America’s favorite Summer Olympic events are gymnastics (18%), swimming (11%), and track (9%) – taking into account that 4 in 10 Americans have no interest in the Games at all. Other Olympic sports named as favorites include field events (2%), soccer (2%), and basketball (2%). Women are more likely to favor gymnastics (27%), followed by swimming (12%) and track (8%), while men are more evenly divided among swimming (10%), track (10%) and gymnastics (9%) as their top pick.

One-third of the public (32%) has more interest in the athletic events over the Olympic ceremonies while 24% say they are equally interested in both the sport and show elements. Just 2% say they have more interest in the ceremonies that open and close the Games than in the actual competition itself.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from July 21 to 26, 2021 with 804 adults in the United States.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

Questions and Results

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

[Q1-19 held for future release.]

20.Have you heard that the Summer Olympic Games are being held in Tokyo this month, or have you not heard this?

Yes, heard 91%
No, not heard 9%

21.How much interest do you have in this year’s Olympics – a lot, a little, or none at all?

A lot16%
A little43%
None at all41%

22.Would you say you have more interest or less interest in this year’s Olympics compared with past Olympics, or do you have about the same level of interest?

More interest3%
Less interest 36%
About the same60%
(VOL) Don’t know1%

23.How much of the Olympics coverage do you plan to watch – a lot, some of it, very little of it, or none of it?

A lot11%
Very little32%
(VOL) Don’t know1%

24.Are you more interested in the ceremonies that open and close the games or in the athletic events, or both equally?

Athletic events32%
Both equally24%
(VOL) Don’t know1%
No interest (from Q21)41%

25.What is your favorite athletic event in the Summer Olympics? [If you had to pick just one, what would it be?] [LIST WAS NOT READ]

Track events – running, hurdles9%
Field events – high/long jump, pole vault, shotput, javelin2%
Baseball, softball1%
Don’t know5%
No interest (from Q21)41%

26.As you may know, the Olympics were supposed to be held last year, but were postponed due to Covid. Do you think it was a good idea or bad idea to go ahead with holding the Olympics now? [If BAD IDEA: Do you think it should have been postponed again and held later, or should it have been canceled entirely?]

Good idea55%
Bad idea …Postponed again24%
Canceled entirely11%
 Not sure1%
(VOL) Don’t know9%

27.How likely do you think it is that a Covid outbreak will occur among the Olympic athletes – very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?

Very likely27%
Somewhat likely43%
Somewhat unlikely19%
Very unlikely8%
(VOL) Don’t know3%


The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from July 21 to 26, 2021 with a national random sample of 804 adults age 18 and older. This includes 276 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 528 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone, in English. Telephone numbers were selected through a mix of random digit dialing and list-based sampling. Landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. The full sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information (ACS 2018 one-year survey). Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field), Dynata (RDD sample), and Aristotle (list sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

26% Republican
41% Independent
33% Democrat
49% Male
51% Female
29% 18-34
33% 35-54
38% 55+
63% White
12% Black
16% Hispanic
  8% Asian/Other
69% No degree
31% 4 year degree

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and crosstabs by key demographic groups.