Should the U.S. skip the next Olympics, hosted by China? Americans are split.

December 03, 2021, 8:30 PM UTC

Beijing is hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, and facing criticism over its reaction to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s accusation that a former Chinese government official sexually assaulted her. She subsequently disappeared from public view (the International Olympic Committee has said it has had two calls with her, but has released no videos or transcript). Some organizations and members of Congress have called for a boycott of the Games, and the Biden administration is considering a “diplomatic” boycott. 

In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, Americans are divided on the next Olympics.

About half of respondents in the poll say they had heard at least “a little” about Peng Shuai, and just 14% said they heard a lot. People who say they had heard a lot are in favor of boycotting the upcoming Games by a margin of two to one, but Americans overall are conflicted: about the same percentage would not participate in the Beijing Olympics as would participate. Republicans are more likely to support a boycott than other Americans.

There is more support for U.S. elected officials not attending the Beijing Olympics. Just 26% think U.S. elected officials should participate; 37% say they should not.

To check whether the way the question was worded affected results, the poll tested two different ways of asking whether the U.S. should participate in the Olympics. Half of respondents were asked if the U.S. should “boycott” the Olympics and half whether the U.S. should “take part” in the Games. The same test was used for the question about U.S. elected officials. The question wording did not have a significant impact on how people responded.

A longer-running issue also impacts U.S. relations to China, and American attitudes. China has long claimed Taiwan as part of China; President Joe Biden has said Taiwan should make its own decisions, occasionally using the word “independence,” which China objects to. While the U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it has promised to defend the island militarily.

Most Americans say that Taiwan is an ally of the U.S., or is friendly. But how far should the U.S. go to protect Taiwan? Americans say they want to protect Taiwan’s independence by a margin of about two to one: 46% say it is more important to keep China from taking over Taiwan, while 24% prefer that the U.S. prioritize good relations with China.

Does keeping China from taking over Taiwan mean military support? About half of Americans prefer not to take a stand on this issue, saying they don’t know enough to say. Among the rest, more than twice as many choose protecting Taiwan militarily over not doing so. Republicans are the most supportive of protecting Taiwan militarily, both now and when the same question was asked five years ago. In 2016, far fewer Americans backed a potential military defense of Taiwan. 

When asked about China overall, many Americans see it as an enemy and a threat. More than one-third of Americans call China an enemy, and a similar proportion call China a serious and immediate threat to the U.S. Another third of Americans call China unfriendly, and about the same proportion call it a somewhat serious threat. The share of evaluations of China as unfriendly to the U.S., and posing a threat, are about as high as those for Russia. More in the poll call North Korea an enemy. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between November 27 and November 30, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty