Utahns really seem to want another Olympics.
A whopping 79% of Utahns approve of the Winter Games coming back to the state, according to the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, while only 16% disapprove, and just 5% weren’t sure how they felt about hosting again.
“That is incredibly strong. Wow,” said Fraser Bullock, a leader of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City who is now president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games bidding for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games.
Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Utahns across the board back the bid because of the success of the 2002 Winter Games, deemed “superb” by the late IOC President Jacques Rogge during the Closing Ceremonies held at the U.’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“In a world where people are so divided about everything, they are united on the Winter Olympics. Regardless of age, gender, party or political affiliation, Utahns want the Olympics back,” Perry said. “There is an Olympic spirit that has not gone away.”
Salt Lake City is competing for the 2030 Winter Games against two other cities that also have previously hosted a Winter Games, Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada. Just over half of the residents in both Sapporo and Vancouver have backed bidding for another Olympics in recent surveys.
In Utah, the new poll found 44% strongly approve of bidding again, with 35% saying they somewhat approve. Only 8% strongly disapprove of trying to bring back the Winter Games, with another 8% saying they somewhat disapprove.
The poll was conducted for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics by Dan Jones and Associations July 13-18 of 801 registered voters in Utah. The statewide survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
The results track with past polling done by the state’s Olympic Exploratory Committee in 2017 that put support for bidding again at 89%, and by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which measured it at 82% before selecting Salt Lake City a year later to bid on behalf of the United States for an unspecified Winter Games.
The new numbers come on the heels of pushback by the IOC over some of the U.S. response to Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Games despite China’s human rights record that appears to make choosing Salt Lake City for 2030 — already a difficult pick because the 2028 Summer Games are in Los Angeles — even more of a long shot.
And IOC President Thomas Bach has also made it clear that naming the 2034 host city will have to wait until after his term ends in 2025. There’s been speculation that the IOC Executive Committee would advance its picks for both the 2030 and the 2034 Winter Games to the contract negotiation stage set to start this December.
Those developments mean it’s now likely to be several more years before Utahns know whether the Olympics are returning.
Bullock said Utahns don’t seem to be deterred by the back-and-forth over the bid.
“Even though there is uncertainty around us potentially hosting in 2030 or 2034, or the timing of awards, we still see strong support,” he said, noting, too, that support is still “incredibly resilient” despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on both last winter’s Beijing Games and the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo that were delayed a year.
The bid committee plans to start reaching out to Utahns this fall, through events set up by the communities with venues from 2002 that have remained in use in anticipation of another Winter Games, like the sliding track and ski jumps at the Utah Olympic Park near Park City and the Utah Olympic Oval speedskating track in Kearns.
Meanwhile, work continues on the bid details the IOC would require for the contract negotiation stage, which include thousands of pages of plans. Bullock and other bid leaders are also staying engaged with U.S. and international sports officials, recently attending the World Athletics Championships in Oregon.
“What we want to signal to the IOC is we’re fully prepared, we’re a bid that they can count on,” he said. “Anything can happen in bidding. Dynamics can change very, very quickly. More preparation is better, so we are committed to being fully prepared with a complete bid, even in advance of when it’s required.”
The bid is expected to cost less than $2 million, money that’s coming from private sources. The plans being pulled together for an event with a $2.2 billion price tag — also without using tax dollars — are intended to show that Salt Lake is not only ready, but ready ahead of schedule to host in 2030 also cover a 2034 Winter Games, Bullock said.
“We will follow the IOC’s lead and see what happens late this year. Then, based on that decision, we’ll make whatever decisions are necessary after that,” he said when asked what would happen to the bid effort if Salt Lake City ends up out of the running for 2030.
“I still strongly believe that we’ll be awarded either ’30 or ’34. We are one of the best cities in the world to host a Games, for all the reasons we all know about, whether it’s compact Games, whether it’s the unified support, whether it’s excellent economics — or just the love of the Games in Utah,” Bullock said.
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said most Utahns aren’t paying much attention to the ups and downs of the Olympic bid, given other more pressing concerns in their daily lives such as inflation.
And if the 2030 bid is not successful, having to wait a few more years to find out about 2034 could put new pressures on the bid over growth-related issues like air quality, water scarcity and housing prices, even though the poll shows the effort is “starting now from a pretty good place,” he said.
“I think what these results suggest is a widespread base of support for the idea of the Olympics coming back to Utah,” Karpowitz said. “I think it suggests some residual pride in the success of 2002 and some forward-looking excitement as well about the possibility of the world coming to Utah again.”
Correction: A graphic in a previous version incorrectly stated the poll was conducted in June. It was conducted in July.