Most Utahns still support hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, the latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows, as proponents and opponents gear up for the public battle over a non-binding referendum scheduled this fall.
Utahns will cast their votes Nov. 7 on an Olympic referendum ballot, wording of which will be finalized in a Sept. 19 special legislative session.In the new survey, pollster Dan Jones & Associates found that 57 percent of Utahns support hosting the games, while 39 percent oppose hosting the Winter Olympics and 4 percent don't know.
Using preliminary referendum wording drafted by legislative leaders, Jones asked 603 people: "Should Utah host the Winter Olympic Games using public funds, to be repaid from revenues generated by the Games?" The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Jones said the question was difficult to compare with past Olympic poll questions worded differently, but he added "I really don't think there's been much movement." How the referendum question is finally phrased by lawmakers in the special session could have a real impact on the outcome, Jones said.
Olympic backers are now considering adding a preamble to the Olympic question that could address conspicuous issues involved in hosting the Games, such as use of public funds and the environment.
Like Jones, Olympic critic Alexis Kelner also saw little shift in support for the Games in the latest poll. But Kelner again complained about the wording of the preliminary draft. He believes the ballot wording is poorly constructed and assumes too much.
"It is a very biased question and I think it represents wishful thinking more than anything," he said, explaining the question assumes Utah will host the Olympics (the International Olympic Committee won't choose a host city until June 1991) and that a Salt Lake Winter Olympics would make enough money to repay tax dollars.
"There's a very strong statistical possibility that none of these things will come about," Kelner said.
Officials of Olympics For Utah, the group charged with persuading Utahns to vote in favor of the Games, felt support has shrunk below levels seen in a Jones poll conducted in June because Olympics For Utah has yet to embark on its campaign effort.
"As we go about our campaign and education effort, I think we'll see that energy come back," said Vicki Varela, executive director of Olympics For Utah.
Supporters promise no Olympic events will be held in Big or Little Cottonwood canyons. And when voters also learn the economic and image-related benefits of the Olympics, support for the Games will grow, Varela predicted.
In a June poll, Jones asked respondents if they favored hosting the Games without reference to taxpayer money used up front to build various venues. Asked in that manner, 68 percent responded favorably to hosting the Winter Games; 25 percent said they opposed hosting the Games. Of the 68 percent who responded favorably, 67 percent still favored hosting the Games when the question of using $56 million in public money for the Games was asked. Twenty-seven percent switched sides and opposed the Games if taxpayer money were used, Jones found.
The latest poll was worded differently because preliminary language for the referendum ballot was available, thus the difficulty in comparing the results.
In the latest poll, Jones found that the strongest regional support for the Games came from Utah County,where 68 percent responded favorably. Salt Lake County showed the strongest opposition with 44 percent responding negatively, 54 percent in favor.
Should Utah host the Winter Olympics using public funds, to be repaid from revenues generated by the Games?
Definitely should 32 percent
Probably should 25 percent
Probably should not 14 percent
Definitely should not 25 percent
Don't know 4 percent
Sample: 603; margin of error plus or minus 4 percent