As Simone Biles was twisting and flipping her way to another US Gymnastics Championship earlier this month, many Americans had no idea who this four-time Olympic gold medalist was. Those that did in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll were overwhelmingly positive, whether they were male or female, fans of women sports or not.
47 percent of all adults have a favorable opinion of Biles, while only 9 percent say they are not favorable. For those who have any interest in watching women’s sports, 62 percent are favorable, 9 percent not favorable.
However, relatively few Americans express interest in following women’s athletic efforts. 43 percent say they are “not at all interested,” with women just as likely as men to have little interest. Less than one in ten say they are “very interested” in watching women sports.
African-Americans express more interest than White Americans in watching women’s sports, and more Democrats than Republicans say they are interested.
There is also limited awareness of Title IX, which forbids high schools and colleges from discriminating by gender in their sports programs, and is credited with the development of many successful American women athletes. Only four in ten say they know even a “moderate amount” about it. However, most Americans appear to support its goals.
The public overwhelmingly favors gender equality in the payment to championship athletes (underscoring the demand by the American Women’s World Cup soccer team, which won the World Cup last month in France). Two-thirds say male and female champions should get equal prize money. Only 16 percent of men and 5 percent of women think male champions should earn more.
Nearly two-thirds (54% of men and 73% of women) believe the federal government should take a more active role to ensure equal pay for men and women doing the same job. 61 percent of Republicans disagree and say the government is already doing enough, with GOP men 21 points more likely than Republican women to say this.
Both men and women have a comfort level with women covering, coaching and refereeing men’s sports (all things a few women are now doing). But there is less comfort with women playing on men’s teams. More than six in ten are comfortable with female play-by-play announcers, coaches and referees, but less than half are comfortable with women players. Many aren’t sure what they think about women participating on men’s sports teams, while a third admit that makes them uncomfortable.
There is almost no difference in the responses of men and women on these questions. Older adults are somewhat less comfortable than younger ones, especially when it comes to women playing men’s sports.