4 things to watch in Olympics debate
Latest poll data show no clear trends
THURSDAY NIGHT, Boston 2024 and No Boston Olympics will meet in a debate hosted by Fox25 and the Boston Globe. Boston 2024’s representatives will be chairman Steve Pagliuca and Daniel Doctoroff, a board member of both Boston 2024 and the US Olympic Committee. Their opponents will be Chris Dempsey, the cochair of No Boston Olympics, and Andrew Zimbalist, an economist and author of a book on the cost of hosting the Olympics.
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 it wants to see support in the 50s “relatively soon.” The latest polls show the numbers aren’t clearly trending in any direction.
- 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.
- 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 50s “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.
- 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 that 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 to 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 seems likely to come out ahead.
- 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 Thursday’s debate. The 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 occupy so much media attention here. The USOC’s presence also reinforces the committee is 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.