The Topline: Four things to watch for in the Olympics debate

Event alert: NEAAPOR is holding a poll/survey data visualization workshop tomorrow, 7/23 from 8:30 AM to noon. MPG will be there. Details and signup here. Tomorrow night, Boston 2024 and No Boston Olympics will meet in a debate hosted by Fox25 and the Boston Globe. The stakes are high. This month’s WBUR poll shows support (42 percent) still trailing opposition (50 percent). The United States Olympic Committee, which decides in September whether to officially submit Boston as the US entrant for host city status, has said publicly they want to see support in the 50’s “relatively soon.” But the latest polls show the numbers aren’t clearly trending in any direction.

Here are four things to look for when the two sides square off  tomorrow night.

  1. Who is elevating whom and why? Don’t elevate a lesser opponent. This oft-repeated political advice could apply to either side here. The question for Boston 2024 is, why risk bringing the lowly, underfunded, ragtag opposition up to their level? And for No Boston Olympics: why not sit on high favorables and a so-far durable lead, instead of giving the bid team a chance to change their fortunes? The approach both sides take to the debate could offer clues into what each hopes to gain from it.
  2. How does Boston 2024 look to win over opponents? Simply put, Olympic proponents have to change minds, not just win over undecided voters. To meet the USOC’s stated goal of support in the 50’s “relatively soon”, to win a referendum next year, and (eventually) to win as host city, some number of opponents will need to be persuaded to support the Games. Opposition is currently at 50 percent, and even higher among the older and whiter voters most likely to show up in a referendum. Boston 2024 has said they have no plans for an ad buy, which seems to ratchet up the pressure for appearances like this. Keep a close eye on what arguments Boston 2024 uses to appeal to skeptics.
  3. Which side wins the debate on public funding, and how much time is spent on it? Despite months of assurances, 75 percent statewide still believe Massachusetts taxpayers will end up on the hook for the Games, an idea has been consistently unpopular. This is an opportunity for the “yes” side to explain their position on public funding, either to sell voters on the use of public money or try to persuade people that public funding won’t be needed after all. But campaigns are largely won or lost by what issues get the most attention. If the debate is all about who will owe what to whom and when, the “no” side certainly seems to come out ahead.
  4. Does the USOC’s presence change the dynamic? The USOC is better liked than Boston 2024 in our most recent WBUR poll, giving them a measure of credibility in tomorrow’s debate. Their presence may be beneficial by allowing the pro-Olympics side to shift the conversation away from the daily back and forth over the mundane details that occupies so much media attention here. The USOC’s presence also reinforces the idea that they are working side-by-side with Boston 2024, rather than looking down critically and skeptically from their lofty perch.

On balance, it appears that Boston 2024 has more to prove, and more at stake. Despite conflicting messages from the USOC on target support levels, it certainly seems Boston 2024 needs to start peeling off some opponents and soon. It’s possible. Over a third (37 percent) of opponents  say they are open to changing their mind, enough to meet any of the goals for support levels that the USOC or others have set. Tomorrow night will be a big test of whether Boston 2024 can do that.


2016 Update

Donald Trump is still soaring on an updraft of his own hot air. A new WaPo / ABC News poll gives him his largest lead yet. The poll was done mostly before the dustup over his remarks about John McCain’s service in Vietnam. The Trump surge may be coming to an end, with the last night of calling showing a major decline in the Donald’s support.

Support for Bernie Sanders grew in the same WaPo / ABC poll, but he still trails by 53 points.

In the first two voting states, the story is a bit more mixed. Jeb Bush has held at least a nominal lead in all New Hampshire polls since April, and Scott Walker continues to lead in Iowa, according to a poll from Monmouth University.

The Fox Debate cometh, with the promise of selecting the 10 participants in the main event via poll averages. But details are still sketchy on what polls will be included. And a few respondents in one or two polls could mean the difference between making the cut or not.

Hillary Clinton is looking weak in three key swing states. Her favorables are particularly problematic.

International Relations

A majority of Americans favor restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba and think President Obama has handled the issue well.

On Iran, Americans are supportive of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, but not that confident that it will succeed.


Over at WGBH, Mo Cunningham continues his periodic invective against political polling as little more than marketing-driven entertainment. But he pauses for a gracious acknowledgment of the WBUR poll and the importance of public opinion in the Boston2024 debate.

- - - - - - - - - - - #NerdAlert Tearline - - - - - - - - - - - -

Falling response rates make polling more expensive since it takes more calls to complete a single survey. But Pew’s Scott Keeter says low response rates don’t appear to make polls unreliable.