Why Don’t Americans Care Their Fellow Americans Are Winning the Summer Olympics in Tokyo?

New polling sheds a light on why Summer Olympics viewership remains very, very low

USA's Gable Dan Steveson celebrates winning the gold medal
USA's Gable Dan Steveson celebrates winning the gold medal after the men's freestyle 125kg wrestling competition.
Anadolu Agency via Getty

As of this writing, Team USA has collectively won nearly 100 medals at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and is projected to finish as the top overall medal-winner at the Games ahead of China, Japan and Great Britain.

Despite all the winning, viewership of the Olympics in America is very, very low. Why?

According to a new poll from Morning Consult, one of the reasons declines for NBC’s primetime coverage of the Olympics during the first week of the Games ranged from a 32% drop to a 55% decline from comparable nights in 2016 is that U.S. adults are less interested in and watching less of the competition from Tokyo than they even anticipated.

In a July 29-Aug. 2 survey of American adults, 40% of respondents said they had watched “a lot” or “some” of the Tokyo Olympics, a smaller percentage than the 51% of respondents in a July 9-13 survey who said they expected to watch that much of the Games prior to their start on July 23.

“In the pre-games survey, the share of respondents who said they were more interested in this summer’s Olympics than the Rio Games (23%) was 7 points greater than the share who said they were less interested (16%),” per Morning Consult. “After a week of the Tokyo Games, the share more interested in the current Olympics than the 2016 Games (19%) was 14 points smaller than the share who said they were less interested (33%), representing a 21-point swing in about two weeks.”

When asked why they weren’t watching, 28% cited general disinterest, 19% said they were busy with other obligations or activities and 14% pointed to either contempt for American athletes or the overall politicization of the competition.

Former NBC researcher Joe Brown forecasted in March that the Tokyo Games could go down as the lowest-rated Summer Olympics ever for NBC, but even he is surprised that no one cares.

“When we talked back in March, things didn’t look good, but I don’t know that anyone quite expected them to be where they are right now,” he said. “Interest just isn’t there, frankly. It’s one thing to talk about media headwinds, which we always talk about, but this is way beyond that.”

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