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Americans' Interest in Watching Olympics Tumbles to New Low

Americans' Interest in Watching Olympics Tumbles to New Low

by Art Swift

Story Highlights

  • 48% in U.S. say they plan to watch a "great deal" or "fair amount"
  • Sharp decline among women fuels drop in interest
  • Fewer know where games will take place compared with previous years

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Forty-eight percent of Americans say they plan to watch a "great deal" or "fair amount" of the 2016 Summer Olympics. This is a sharp drop from 59% in 2012 and easily the lowest percentage planning to watch compared with the past four Summer Games.


Thirty percent say they plan to watch "not much" of the Olympics, and 21% say "none at all" -- the highest percentage saying so since Gallup began asking this question in 2000.

These results come from a July 13-17 Gallup poll asking Americans about their plans to watch the Olympics, which begin this week in Rio de Janeiro. Many athletes' decisions to opt out of the games because of concerns about the Zika virus have already blemished the Rio Olympics. Other controversies have marred the games, including the banishment of the Russian track and field and weightlifting teams due to their widespread drug use. Reports of rooms in the Olympic Village smelling like gas, along with blocked toilets and exposed wires -- as well as accounts of sewage in the waters that athletes will swim and row in -- have dominated headlines. All of these issues may explain why Americans find the idea of watching the Rio Olympics less appealing than previous Summer Games.

Sharp Decline Among Women Fuels Drop in Viewing

Men (49%) and women (47%) have roughly the same interest in watching the Rio Olympics. Yet the decline in interest among women is stark: For the 2012 London Olympics, 63% of women said they planned to watch the Olympics a great deal or fair amount.

Americans' Intent to Watch Summer Olympics, by Gender
% Great deal/Fair amount
Men Women
% %
2016 49 47
2012 53 63
2008 56 56
2004 57 60
2000 57 61

In previous Olympic Games, men and women were roughly even in their intentions to watch -- although in three of the last four Summer Olympics, women outpaced men at least slightly in their interest in watching. This year, men have a slight edge in interest level for the first time since 2000.

Knowledge of Olympics' Host City Declines

Despite controversies in the news about the Rio Olympics, fewer Americans are able to identify where the Olympics are taking place than in years past. Less than half (46%) know the Olympics will be held in Rio, with an additional 17% correctly identifying Brazil as the host nation. This is down from 65% who correctly named London as the location for the 2012 Games, in addition to 8% who were partially correct in naming England as the site of the games.

Americans' Knowledge of Olympics' Location
Do you, by chance, know where the Summer Olympics are being held this month?
Correct response Partially correct Incorrect No opinion
% % % %
2016 46 (Rio de Janeiro) 17 (Brazil) 4 34
2012 65 (London) 8 (England) 2 24
2008 43 (Beijing) 36 (China) 2 19
2004 45 (Athens) 26 (Greece) 8 21
2000 44 (Sydney) 30 (Australia) 3 23
1952 28 (Helsinki) 4 (Europe) 27 41
1948 20 (London) 17 (England) 12 51

While still a solid combined majority at 63% for 2016, in Olympics past Americans' awareness of the location has been much higher. In 2008, 79% knew that the Olympics would take place in Beijing or China, along with 71% in 2004 and 74% in 2000.

In 1948 and 1952, a time with far less television and no social media, less than half of Americans could name London and Helsinki as the locations for those respective years' games.

Bottom Line

For the first time since Gallup began asking this question in 2000, Americans are almost evenly split as to whether they will watch the Olympics. The Olympic Games have been a rallying cry for nations since ancient times, and certainly since the modern Olympics resumed in 1896. Yet with concerns about the Zika virus keeping many American athletes at home, on top of allegations of drug use among participants and recent reports of unsafe conditions in the Olympic Village, Americans seem to have lost interest.

Though U.S. adults are less likely to watch the Olympics than in years past, they may tune in in greater numbers if there are captivating storylines to drive interest early in the games -- such as "underdog" athletes winning unexpectedly, the U.S. outperforming other nations or even further controversies. Whether or not Americans watch the Summer Games, they are likely to remain a highly observed global event this month.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, with a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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