Gay Rights and the Olympics

August 20, 2013, 10:38 PM GMT+0

(Week of August 19, 2013) Two recent events have raised the question of whether or not the United Should repeat its 1980 boycott of the Olympics Games, and stay away from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia: first the temporary asylum Russia granted to NSA analyst and classified information leaker Edward Snowden, and the more recent concerns over a new Russian law that would arrest anyone – including athletes -- promulgating “homosexual propaganda” to minors.

The latest Economist/YouGov Poll suggests the latter could be a greater threat to U.S. participation in the Winter Games than the former, although as of now a clear majority continues to support American participation in the Russian Olympics, and nearly half think it is a bad idea to boycott any Olympics for political reasons.

There is somewhat more willingness to boycott the Sochi Games now than there was just after Russia granted Snowden’s request for temporary asylum. As recently as last week, nearly a third of approved of Russia’s decision to grant that asylum. Only 15% now think the Russian law that prohibits “homosexual propaganda” and might result in the arrest of athletes is a good policy. .

Those who say they support the Russian law are much more likely to hold negative attitudes about homosexuality. Opinions about gays and lesbians have changed greatly in recent years. However, 38% continue to think homosexuality should be discouraged by society. More than a third of those who think that support the Russian law.

23% say they know no one who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That is more common with less educated adults and with Hispanics. Nearly identical percentages of Republicans, Democrats and independents know an LGBT person. However, majorities of Republicans think homosexuality should be discouraged and believe it is a choice, and 69% of them oppose same-sex marriage.

The last time an Olympics was held in Russia – in 1980 -- the United States boycotted the games. The country was then the Soviet Union, and it had just invaded Afghanistan. At the time, Americans overwhelmingly supported a boycott. Each time CBS News asked “If the Soviet Union does not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, do you think the United States should or should not take part in the summer Olympic Games in Moscow?” in 1980, 70% or more of the public wanted the U.S. to stay out. Perhaps in retaliation, the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.

Retrospectively, however, Americans are less sure that the 1980 boycott was such a good thing. Asked now if President Jimmy Carter was right or wrong to boycott the 1980 games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, nearly as many think he was wrong as think he was right.

In 1980, both Republicans and Democrats supported a boycott, but that is no longer true. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to now think the Carter boycott decision was a mistake. Men, those 65 and older, and Republicans are evenly split of the question. There are also political differences when it comes to the question of ever boycotting the Olympics because of politics. By 45% to 34%, Americans disapprove of political boycotts. Democrats are split, but Republicans and independents oppose them.

Gay rights is not the country’s most important issue. Only 1% say it is, while 23% describe is as very important to them. That is far fewer than the number citing things like the economy, health care, Social Security, the budget deficit and terrorism. Gay rights is more than twice as important to Democrats as to Republicans. And it is more often named by women, college graduates and younger adults.

The President’s overall approval rating is just 42%, and 53% of Americans disapprove of the way he is handling his job. When it comes to the issue of gay rights, 40% approve of his handling, and 45% disapprove.

In both cases, there are the usual partisan differences: 64% of Democrats but only 14% of Republicans approve of the President’s handling of gay rights. However, the difference is narrower than on his overall approval rating. 74% of Democrats and only 5% of Republicans approve of how the President is handling his job overall.

Images: Getty