Americans overwhelmingly support Olympic athletes who need to withdraw for mental health reasons

August 05, 2021, 5:15 PM UTC

The Olympics have held the attention of about four in ten American adults, who have watched the Olympics at least a little every day. That audience in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll is younger, and better off, than those not watching, and the West appears to have the most interested audience. 

Most viewers say the team’s performance has been very good or excellent; only one in four think the team are underperforming, even with several disappointments like the women’s soccer loss to Canada and gold medal gymnastics hopeful Simone Biles pulling out for mental health reasons.


Women viewers were eight points more likely than men watching to describe the USA Olympics performance as very good or excellent.

Watchers, even more than the public overall, are ready to accept that athletes can’t always perform in difficult circumstances. They approve of U.S. Olympics athletes withdrawing from competition if they have a physical injury, if there are personal reasons like a death or serious illness of a family member, and (by nearly the same margins) for mental health reasons, an explanation given by Simone Biles when she stepped out of the competition last week.

Those who had heard the most about Biles’ withdrawal are the most supportive. They approve of an athlete withdrawing from competition if necessary for mental health reasons 83% to 9%. 

In addition, by three to one (54% to 17%) Americans do not believe an athlete has the responsibility to compete if they are physically injured but could still compete at a world class level.  Those watching the Olympics also reject this statement three to one, 59% to 20%.

Olympics viewers give both the U.S. and the International Olympic Committees good marks for keeping Olympics athletes safe in general.  By 63% to 19% watchers say the U.S. Olympic Committee is doing a good job; by 60% to 20%, they believe the International Olympic Committee is, too. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll

Related: Americans support bipartisan infrastructure bill by 51% to 19%

MethodologyThe Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between July 31 - August 3, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.6% for the overall sample.  

Image: Getty